Saudi Arabia's rights crackdown linked to war on terror
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP):
A man is given 50 lashes in a public square for "insulting Islam" on a liberal blog. Another is arrested for filming and uploading a woman's public beheading. Two females are imprisoned and put on trial for writing on Twitter in support of women driving.
These cases have thrust Saudi Arabia's record on human rights back into the spotlight, with international concern mounting over the limits of free speech in the Arab monarchy.
Human rights activists and lawyers say the cases are part of a sweeping clampdown on dissent that has intensified in Saudi Arabia since the region's 2011 Arab Spring upheaval. They say acts that offend the country's religious hard-liners or open up the kingdom to criticism, like the video of the execution that was widely seen before it was taken down, have landed people in jail as a warning to others.
The case of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old father of three who was flogged this month, has attracted the most attention in recent days, particularly in the aftermath of the deadly attack in Paris against a satirical weekly that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
Badawi was arrested in 2012 after writing articles critical of Saudi Arabia's clerics on his Free Saudi Liberals blog, which has since been shut down. Hard-liners wanted him charged with apostasy, which carries the death sentence in Saudi Arabia, but he was instead found guilty of the lesser charge of insulting Islam.
He was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes and was fined $266,000. He was scheduled for another round of 50 lashes last Friday, but the flogging was cancelled to allow his wounds to heal, according to Amnesty International.
"If you say that what happened in Paris is an attack on freedom of expression, than you can say what is happening to Raif is an attack on freedom of expression," said Amnesty's Saudi researcher Sevag Kechichian.
Just days after the attacks in Paris, Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs took part in the huge march that was held there to support free speech and honor the victims. Two days earlier, Badawi was flogged in the Red Sea city of Jiddah.