Middle East

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi flogging postponed second time

Media captionRaif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar has appealed to Saudi Arabia's new monarch to pardon him

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have again postponed a second round of 50 lashes on the blogger Raif Badawi.

No reason has been given, but last week Mr Badawi was reported to be physically unfit to face the penalty after receiving the first flogging.

He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.

His punishment has caused international outcry. Three weeks ago the case was referred to the Supreme Court by the office of then-King Abdullah.

The new Saudi King Salman has issued a decree pardoning what are described as "public right" prisoners, which could include Mr Badawi.

Suad al-Shammary, a rights activist and lawyer who worked with Mr Badawi on his blog, was released on Friday.

She had been held for three months without charge over comments she made on Twitter, which her opponents portrayed as anti-Islamic.

Health fears

Raif Badawi, 30, was due to receive the lashes over a period of 20 weeks. The first round was carried out outside a mosque in Jeddah on 9 January as a crowd watched.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The flogging has triggered protests outside Saudi embassies

Mr Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar - who lives in Canada - told the BBC she was buoyed by Friday's developments.

"I ask the world to remain by my side until Raif is released."

She said she now hated Fridays - the day of lashings. "I turn into a mess, until I know his [Raif's] fate."

Analysis: Becky Kelly, BBC News

The hope Ensaf Haidar clings to week after week does not seem as impossible now as it once did. It's down to a royal decree issued by new Saudi King Salman which announced he would pardon some prisoners. The late King Abdullah did the same.

The difference is that Abdullah imposed no conditions, but King Salman's pardons will be implemented by the interior minister.

Sources in Saudi Arabia told me that if Raif is one of those prisoners offered a pardon, it will come with conditions he must sign in exchange for freedom. Typically, pardoned activists have had to stop their work and give up their right to free expression.

In recent days Saudi officials have approached current prisoners of conscience unofficially inquiring about their thoughts on such potential conditional pardons, the human rights group Amnesty International discovered.

On Thursday, Amnesty International said Mr Badawi could suffer "debilitating long-term physical and mental damage" if the flogging continues.

"Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, whose only 'crime' was to set up a website for public discussion," said Amnesty's Philip Luther.

Raif Badawi established Liberal Saudi Network, a now-closed online forum that sought to encourage debate on religious and political matters in 2008.

In 2012, he was arrested and charged with "insulting Islam through electronic channels" and "going beyond the realm of obedience".

In 2013 he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent. It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism.

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