This has been burning inside me all week. I must share it and seek your support. Here is a link to an online petition, and I urge you to read my article, sign and share: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/saudi-arabia-set-resume-flogging-raif-badawi-friday-2015-01-14
I am a blogger. I am proud to be a blogger; I will be coming up to my one-thousandth blog post this year, and I will celebrate. I will also celebrate the fact that I live in a country where I am allowed to express my views freely – where I am allowed to operate this site and publish my articles without hindrance or harassment of any kind. But my blog is not really a “me” thing. As it is for most bloggers, I suspect, it is a platform to share views and ideas, to seek to inspire or provoke deeper thought on issues; and sometimes just to entertain.
A blog can be about anything you want it to be. But one thing I do know is that it is about freedom. I understand this every time I sit down at my keyboard. I am grateful for it.
Around the world, many of my colleague bloggers are not so lucky. If you follow the website Global Voices (and I highly recommend you do so), you will know that in some countries bloggers are targeted, persecuted, shut down, harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, sometimes even assassinated.
One blogger we should all be particularly worried about right now is Raif Badawi. His Government – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – has torn at my heart. According to Amnesty International: “In May 2014, Raif Badawi, co-founder of the ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals’ website, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (about US$266,631) by Jeddah’s Criminal Court. Raif Badawi was first jailed in 2012 for violating Saudi Arabia’s IT law and insulting religious authorities through his online writings and hosting those of others on the ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals’ website. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In December 2013, an appeals court overturned his conviction and sent the case to Jeddah’s Criminal Court to be reviewed. He had initially been charged with ‘apostasy’, which is considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia and carries the death penalty.”
On January 9, Saudi authorities lashed Mr. Badawi fifty times – in public – and will receive more on Friday. His wife is worried he may not survive the 1,000 lashes; this is just the start. The blogger has been sentenced to 950 more lashes over the next nineteen weeks. I cannot conceive of this in my mind. Jamaican human rights activist Susan Goffe tweeted today that the punishment violates UN Conventions against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Meanwhile, the obvious stifling of dissent, discourse and the peaceful expression of views is ongoing in Mr. Badawi’s country, where social media platforms are regularly shut down.
What horrendous “crime” has Mr. Badawi committed to receive this inhumane, positively mediaeval punishment? He writes. He applauded the “Arab Spring” in Egypt (his Government did not). He embraces the concepts of liberalism and secularism, suggesting: “States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.” He also wrote: “Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” He has quoted Albert Camus, and even the Koran itself, to support his view that a theocratic state, “claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth,” is oppressive and anachronistic. Yes, religion should be a personal choice, not state policy. Really dangerous thoughts, eh?
Now, I am not claiming that bloggers are all saints, or that pearls of wisdom fall from their lips continuously. That’s not the point. But they offer perspectives. As we have realized from the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, all views contend (and some of them are very convoluted) and that is as it should be. One blog post I have been following has a heated discussion about Charlie that is now running to well over 100 comments, and still going. Some commenters are getting pretty upset… But hey, it’s freedom of speech and it is democracy. We don’t all have to agree.
I am personally pleading for Raif Badawi to be pardoned and released. I am begging the Saudi Government to stop torturing one of your own citizens for peacefully expressing his views.
Please sign the petition. I particularly beseech my fellow bloggers in Jamaica and around the world to do so.