The Guardian view on the flogging of Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia is in the dock
The cruel and unjust sentence passed on the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, has been upheld by the supreme court in Riyadh. Hopes that the court might reduce or even commute the sentence, particularly as the holy fast of Ramadan begins next week, have been dashed.
The only remaining appeal now is to the Saudi monarch, King Salman. From Quebec, where she has been granted asylum with their children, Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar has said that she fears the public flogging – 50 lashes at a time every Friday after prayers – might resume as soon as this Friday. Mr Badawi had been whipped only once after his sentence was passed, and prison doctors deemed that he was too ill to be flogged again before his appeal was heard. Britain and its allies, conveniently meeting together at the G7 in Germany, must unite and condemn what is almost certainly a life-threatening sentence. They should stand together in defence of their shared values and demand his release.
Mr Badawi’s sentence is a brutal exercise in public intimidation. He has challenged Saudi Arabia’s autocratic and religious state, and even though his arguments could not be more carefully and modestly expressed, to hold them at all is incompatible with the regime under which he lives. His offence was to start a website, the Saudi Free Liberals forum, that argued for secularism and free speech. He carefully avoided direct criticism of the Saudi royal family, but – like many Arab thinkers before him –he is convinced that a separation of faith and state is the best course if his country is to have a future of what he calls “modernisation and hope”. In an expression of his convictions posted five years ago, he wrote: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.” For this belief he faces a punishment from a state that was one of the handful never to endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that that document violates the precepts of Islam.
As this newspaper has argued before, Saudi Arabia ought to be treated as a global pariah. It is a source of a particular strain of jihadist poison, of fanatical preachers, and of young men, like the 9/11 hijackers, who threaten both the west and the whole Middle East by their readiness to fight, often in the cause of Wahhabist Islam. For the past month, a Saudi blockade has been imperilling thousands of innocent Yemenis, and aerial bombardment by Saudi jets is killing scores more. Yet the kingdom continues to be treated with honour by western powers. Britain buys Saudi oil and courts Saudi trade. Even free speech in the UK has been curtailed in order to avoid giving offence to so rich and powerful an ally. Of all the European powers, only Sweden has been prepared to jeopardise relations and its arms trade by taking a stand.
Mr Badawi will never have doubted what a challenge he posed to the kingdom. He will have understood the retribution that it was likely to bring down on his head. It is the kind of courage that demands to be recognised and honoured by everyone who respects human rights. We are and we remain Raif Badawi.