Release of Saudi Blogger Activist Raef Badawi

Saudi Arabia has confirmed a 10-year travel ban for the released blogger and activist Raif Badawi, who has become a symbol of freedom of expression around the world.

Badawi, 38, was arrested and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam”. He was released on March, after being lashed for allegedly “insulting Islam” on his online forum. While in fact, he had criticised Saudi Arabia’s religious police on his blog, a force that has since seen its power clipped in recent years by the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and also called for an end to the role of religion in politics.

An interior ministry official said that Badawi cannot leave Saudi Arabia for another 10 years unless a [royal] pardon is issued. At the end of 2014, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks.

His first flogging in the kingdom’s Jeddah square was described by the United Nations as “cruel and inhuman”. After the outcry, he was not lashed again. However, Badawi’s sister, Samar Badawi, was arrested in July 2018, along with more than a dozen other activists on suspicion of harming Saudi interests. She was released last year.

A court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison in 2014, as well as 1,000 lashes. Nevertheless, during his time in prison the 38-year-old Badawi became a cause celebrate for activists calling for “human rights” reforms in Saudi Arabia, and won a Reporters Without Borders prize for press freedom.

Raif Badawi’s fate became a symbol of oppression in Saudi Arabia. His wife Ensaf Haidar lead an international campaign for his release, with many activists and organisations across the world joining the effort. Haidar has been granted political asylum in Canada, where she now lives with their three children. The four are now Canadian citizens.

It was not clear when and how the blogger would be reunited with his family, however, as Badawi will likely be banned from leaving his native country for another decade. Moreover, Amnesty International said in a statement “Badawi is also banned from using any social media for the next 10 years, which gravely limits his ability to express himself.”

Meanwhile, in rare public criticism, the United States urged Saudi Arabia on March 8 to review cases of “prisoners of conscience” and lift travel bans and other restrictions imposed on women’s rights activists previously released from jail.

GRW, International NGOs and the United Nations continue to denounce the brutal repression of dissenting voices and the imprisonment of activists in Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s efforts to improve its image by undertaking certain reforms.

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