Raif Badawi
Raif Badawi

On International Blasphemy Rights Day, I stand with Raif Badawi and against Saudi Arabia

Raif Badawi champions freedom of religion, belief, expression and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a country where none of these rights exist.

Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi

I’ve written before about Saudi’s insanity when it comes to suppressing fundamental freedoms. If anything, Badawi’s case shows that things are getting worse.

In 2008, Badawi was detained and questioned on charges of apostasy, a crime in 20 countries and one punishable by death in 13, Saudi included. That time he was released. But in 2012 he was arrested and formally charged with apostasy and “insulting Islam” for starting Liberal Saudi Network, a website that hosted content critical of the state religion.

In 2013 he was sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” Badawi’s lawyer successfully appealed the sentence, but earlier this year a criminal court upped the punishment to 10 years in prison, 1,000 public lashes, a 20-year travel ban and a fine of more than $250,000, adding insult to insult to injury to injury. The court also jailed Badawi’s lawyer for human rights activism*, AKA doing his job.

Badawi’s 20 rounds of public lashings are set to begin in the coming weeks in front of a Jeddah mosque after Friday prayers.

Hold up a minute.

Despite more than a decade of attempts to push through anti-blasphemy/anti-defamation of religion resolutions at the U.N., no such protections exist at the international level. Know what rights are enshrined in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and elsewhere? The freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the freedom to publicly and privately manifest beliefs, the freedom to change or to drop those beliefs, the freedom of opinion and expression. These rights necessarily include the freedom to blaspheme and to apostatize.

You’d think that Saudi, which now sits on the U.N. Human Rights Council, might have read the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. You’d think the same of fellow UNHRC members China, Russia, Kuwait, Pakistan and honorary members Genghis Khan, Satan and Hitler (kidding, barely), but I’m not convinced they have. Saudi abstained from adopting the declaration in 1948 and never signed nor ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Saudi has such little respect for Articles 19 of both documents, which protect freedom of expression, that a country rep shouted down the Center for Inquiry not one, not two, but three times -- thrice! -- when it brought up the country’s dismal human rights record at a UNHRC meeting in Geneva in June.

I’d say the whole country is drunk, but booze is banned under Sharia law, so that theory falls flat.

A more likely explanation is that Saudi suppresses religious and political dissent to maintain control. Rights and freedoms are great for individuals and societies, but they’re a pain in the neck for authoritarian governments.

The international community clearly isn’t applying enough pressure on Saudi to make it undertake substantial reforms. Occasional finger wags from Obama and E.U. officials aren’t matched by meaningful sanctions, an imbalanced reality that implies tacit consent for the government’s human rights violations to continue unabated.

Saudi’s normalized position on the world stage and Rafi Badawi’s plight represent the tragedy that can and does ensue when international economic and political considerations overshadow fundamental human rights.

This International Blasphemy Rights Day, let’s sound our dissent at the gross mistreatment Badawi and other dissenters face around the world. These victims of conscience are victims of outdated blasphemy, apostasy and defamation of religion laws, present in nearly half the world’s countries, that exist to protect established power structures rather than actual people.

You can help Raif Badawi by sending an appeal to these and these Saudi officials by October 13.

*According to Amnesty International, Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was was found guilty of “disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy”, “insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges”, “setting up an unlicensed organization”, “harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations” and “preparing, storing and sending information that harms public order”.



  1. it amazes me that this story and the other ‘blasphemy’ cases don’t get more attention. until american and other western, or so called moderate muslims begin speaking out, i’m not buying that they are for freedom of expression.

  2. This is an example of the evil of religion. Such rules and behavior prove that Islam remains an evil, royal religion. This evil Islamic behavior at least matches the pedophilia, ephebophilia, and other sex scandals of the Catholic Church worldwide. Both evil religions dare to dictate the specifics of what people must believe and how they must act to confirm those evil beliefs.

    What force has brought greater suffering to humanity than the hypocrisy of religion that claims to be a force for good and is nothing but a cover for royal, dominionist evil?

  3. Are such stories as these any different than the economic terror practiced in this nation by Republicans who deceive any money power or any religious power to join their ranks so they can increase their selfish, greedy wealth while destroying the economy of the whole nation–and preventing the function of all government while they do so?

  4. I have never lived in Saudi Arabia. But it’s already clear that neither Republicans or Democrats should be painted with **their** brush at this time.

    For example, neither congressional Republicans nor congressional Democrats will ever give you or me 600 rounds of public lashings, or even one lash. No Democrat judge, and no Republican judge, will slam us 10 years, merely for apostasy. Freedom lives here.

    Now obviously, I can’t quite vouch for ALL you Democrats, seeing as you viciously tried to remove the word “God” from your own National Platform in 2012.

    And since you Dems evolved into Gestapo Cultists on gay marriage, that means you do NOT really support constitutional religious liberties, as Christian families and businesses are finding out even today.

    But even though Democrats are essentially no-good, you’re still 2000 times better than the Saudis. So I give you credit where credit is due.

    How about you, Gilhcan? You ever live in Saudi Arabia?

  5. Christian conservatives are so jealous of the power Middle Eastern autocrats wield to defend their religion.

  6. “And since you Dems evolved into Gestapo Cultists on gay marriage, that means you do NOT really support constitutional religious liberties, as Christian families and businesses are finding out even today. ”

    Doc, nobody has a right to discriminate in open commerce. Be that posting signs that say “whites only” or ones that say “no gays allowed”. 🙂

  7. Thank you for this article. I just sent the letter to the ambassador.

  8. Makes me hate religion even more than I already do.

    Everybody must agree that Purple is everybody’s favorite color. If you like a different color or if you don’t know how to pick a color, you get killed.

    That is blasphemy. Rejection of some fancy person’s favorite color.

    Stupid religion.

  9. According to any reasonable standards, Raif is an innocent man. To punish him for what would be considered fair comment in any free-minded society is inhumane.
    He should be freed immediately and allowed to return to his family.
    However, there is an element in Saudi Arabian society that sincerely believes he should be punished. In which case, the jail term he has already served and the fifty lashes he has taken are surely enough. The point has been made and an example has been set to any other young men audacious enough to have minds of their own.
    Raif Badawi has suffered imprisonment, humiliation and excruciating pain. That should be enough to satisfy the most vindictive of people. Further lashes and more jail time will achieve nothing, other than to sully the name of Saudi Arabia still further.

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