Middle East

Lash and jail for Saudi web activist Raef Badawi

Raef Badawi was facing a possible death sentence for apostasy
Raef Badawi was facing a possible death sentence for apostasy

A Saudi online activist has been jailed for seven years and sentenced to 600 lashes for urging religious liberalisation, his lawyer has said.

The activist, Raef Badawi, co-founded the Free Saudi Liberals website, an online forum for public debate.

He was arrested last year and convicted on Monday of setting up a website that undermined general security.

Amnesty International considers Mr Badawi a political prisoner and has called for his immediate release.

Mr Badawi was originally charged with apostasy, or abandonment of religion, a crime in Saudi Arabia that carries with it the death penalty.

Lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair told the BBC that Mr Badawi, a father of three, had confirmed in court that he was a Muslim but told the judge "everyone has a choice to believe or not believe."

He was convicted of the charges of setting up a website that undermines general security and of ridiculing religious figures.

The judge ordered that the 600 lashes be administered 150 at a time.

Mr Alkhair said the charges were over comments the activist posted calling for a relaxation of Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam.

The lawyer said the sentence was unduly harsh.

"The lashes could be spread out but in Sharia this is a sign that the judge wants to insult him," he said.

His lawyer said he will appeal against the decision.

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