Raif Badawi (1984)

the Saudi blogger sentenced to 1000 lashes

Raif Badawi was born on 13 January 1984 in Saudi Arabia. He was educated to  7th grade level. In 2002 he married Ensaf Haidar, from whom he has three children Terad, Najwa and Miriam. They led a happy life, until he decided to open the blog Free Saudi Liberals. Ensaf started fearing for his life because "the religious institutions in Saudi Arabia were powerful, ferocious and brutal", as she wrote in a letter, in which she declares she steadily prays for the country's king, Salmān, to pardon her husband. The first summoning of Raif before the security service happened in 2007. In a first phase, Badawi managed anyway to travel abroad  including London, which he visited in 2008 - and he became aware of the important differences being there from the countries where the rule of law is in place and the regime of his country.

He wrote on the secular state, democracy, even Israel and Hamas “I am not in favour of the Israeli occupation of any Arab country, but at the same time I do not want to replace Israel with a religious state... whose only concern would be to spread the culture of death and ignorance among its people, whereas we need modernization and hope”. Badawi kept on defending secularism, writing in his blog things such as: “Secularism respects everybody and does not offend anyone... Secularism is the practical solution to get the countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the developed one". The blogger also entered into details, with reference to the European countries: "Look at what happened after the European peoples managed to remove the clergy from public life and restrict their role to their churches. They have built human beings and promoted enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. The countries based on religion confine their people in a circle base on faith and fear".

In 2008 he was arrested for the first time. He was released after a day of questioning, but he was forbidden to leave the country. In 2008 his goods were frozen. Ensaf's family issued a demand for divorce to compel her to leave her "apostate" husband, but the woman decided to remain on Raif's side.
Following his arrest in 2012, Amnesty International defined Raif as a prisoner of conscience, "only detained for peacefully exerting his right to freedom of expression". A spokesperson of this group said "Even in Saudi Arabia where state repression is rife, it is beyond the pale to seek the death penalty for an activist whose only 'crime' was to enable social debate online". Human Rights Watch appealed to the government, saying:  "The charges against him, based solely to Badawi's involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression". Raif in facts appeared before a district court in Jeddah on 17 December 2012 charged with "setting up a website that undermines general security", "ridiculing Islamic religious figures", and "going beyond the realm of obedience". That judge referred Raif to a higher court for the charge of apostasy declaring that he "could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy." On 22 December, the General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy case. The higher court refused to hear the case and referred it back to the lower court.

On July 30, 2013, Saudi media reported that Raif Badawi had been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that "violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought". The court also ordered the website closed.

In May 2014 it was reported that Raif was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes, as well as being ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals, for "insulting Islam".His lawyer, Waleed Abdulkair, too, was arrested, after founding the group for human rights in Saudi Arabia called Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

On January 9, 2015, Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators in front of a Jeddah mosque, the first in a series of 1,000 lashes to be carried out in over twenty weeks.

In the opinion of the president of Amnesty International Italy,  Riccardo Noury, the public handing of the sentence is a "foul deed”.

The incident was condemned by several different exponents of Amnesty International from the Middle East to Canada, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, High UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said that lashes are, "at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment” which international human rights law prohibits.Al-Hussein, of the Jordan royal family, demanded to stop the flogging and pardon Badawi, "and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty".The case of Raif also led to a mobilization of the public opinion, up to the social networks with hashtag #JeSuisRaif.

“It is impossible to describe how I felt - said Ensaf Haidar -. It was a mixture of  sadness and pain. it was horrible to imagine what was happening to Raif". The woman then added: "I appreciate all those who show their concern for the case of Raif. I hope all world's governments will intensify their efforts to make pressure on the authorities so that they stop what they mean to do to my husband. I believe they can do, if they talk directly to the Saudi government”. Ensaf started receiving death threats from the last stages of the trial. She then fled to Canada, where she obtained political asylum for herself and her three children and told about her husband's ordeal in the book Raif Badawi: The voice of freedom. My husband, our story. She said many times that the people from Canada have really showed how they care about Raif's case and they are really praiseworthy for this, and that  her children of course will be "much more quiet" when they can embrace their father again.

Honours and Awards

Awarded the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, 2015 from the European Parliament
Awarded the Freedom of Speech Award 2015 from Deutsche Welle
Awarded the Courage Award 2015 from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
Awarded the Aikenhead Award 2015 della Scottish Secular Society.
One Humanity Award 2014 from PEN club Canada.
Netizen Prize of Reporters without Borders 2014.
Honorary member of PEN Canada, Denmark and Germany.
Nominated by Spain's Individual Freedom Party (P-LIB) for the 2014 Freedom Award.
Nominated by Spain's Individual Freedom Party (P-LIB) for the 2014 Freedom Award.
Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

After 10 years of detention and a public flogging, Raif Badawi, now 38, was released in March 2022. The announcement of his release was made by his wife who lives in Canada and confirmed by Riyadh authorities.

Gardens that honour Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi is honoured in the Garden of Milan - Monte Stella.

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