Raif Badawi: Court refuses to charge Saudi blogger

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Saudi blogger Raif BadawiImage source, other
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It is unclear what Mr Badawi's fate will be now the court has refused to charge him

A court in Saudi Arabia has found that a liberal blogger accused of apostasy has no case to answer.

The court had the power to sentence Raif Badawi to death had it found him guilty.

But it refused to charge him, referring his case back to a lower court.

Mr Badawi, the young co-founder of a website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested last year and accused of insulting Islam and showing disobedience.

His lawyer, Waleed Abu Alkhair, says he became a target for Saudi authorities after declaring 7 May last year a "day for Saudi liberals" - in order to have more open discussion about social and religious issues.

His wife, Ensaf, has stood by him but told the BBC of the personal cost of the case, with friends and family distancing themselves or even turning against them.

She now lives in Lebanon, but says she has received threatening messages.

"Two or three days after Raif's hearing, I started to receive phone calls from unknown people, saying 'we are going to kill your husband'. But I didn't respond to them."

This was after a judge in a lower court recommended that Mr Badawi should be tried for apostasy - for which he could have faced the death penalty - if the higher court had backed the charges.

The evidence against him included the fact that he pressed the "Like" button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians.

It is unclear what happens next, but sources close to Mr Badawi say he believes he will now be shuttled between various courts to keep him in prison without attracting the further international criticism that a guilty verdict might bring.

Mr Badawi's case is not unique. It highlights the constant push and pull between reformist and deeply conservative forces in Saudi Arabia.

A prominent writer, Turki al-Hamad, is currently under a form of house arrest for recent tweets criticising Islamists - he, too, could be charged with apostasy.

Another writer and blogger, Hamza Kashgari, was extradited from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia almost a year ago on similar charges. He has repented in court, but remains in jail.