Home World Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi Is Freed From Prison

Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi Is Freed From Prison


BEIRUT, Lebanon — A Saudi blogger who was arrested a decade ago and flogged in a public square for expressing liberal views on the internet was released from prison on Friday, his wife and son wrote on Twitter.

“After 10 years in prison #Raifisfree!” wrote his wife, Ensaf Haidar, who has campaigned for the release of her husband, Raif Badawi, from Canada.

Amnesty International welcomed the news, saying that Mr. Badawi had been jailed “solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”

“His ongoing detention reveals the Saudi Arabian authorities’ utter contempt for the right to liberty, freedom of expression and even their own laws,” the group wrote on Twitter.

It was not immediately clear why Mr. Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, a fine of more than a quarter-million dollars and 1,000 blows with the cane, was released on Friday.

His case, and the resulting prison term and corporal punishment, became a lightening rod for rights campaigners who saw it as a clear example of the kingdom’s lack of tolerance for dissenting views and freedom of speech.

Ms. Haidar did not immediately reply to a request for comment, and the news was not reported by the Saudi state news media. A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Badawi was arrested and prosecuted for running a website called “Free Saudi Liberals” that published content critical of the kingdom’s religious authorities and their austere interpretation of Islam.

Saudi Arabia has changed a lot since Mr. Badawi’s conviction, largely because of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who emerged as the kingdom’s de facto ruler after his father, King Salman, ascended the Saudi throne in 2015.

As part of a wide-ranging plan to diversify the economy and make life more interesting for the kingdom’s youthful population, Prince Mohammed has brought in concerts and movie theaters, granted women the right to drive, and loosened restrictions on their dress and ability to work in a range of fields.

He has also taken power away from the so-called “religious police” who used to enforce strict social mores, and sought to modify certain legal practices that have long rankled the kingdom’s Western partners, like the United States. In 2020, the kingdom banned flogging as a punishment.

While acknowledging the changes, rights groups and Saudi dissidents say the kingdom has gotten no less authoritarian and no more tolerant of dissenting views, especially those deemed to be critical of Prince Mohammed and his initiatives.

Notable cases include an economist who was put on trial for terrorism after he publicly questioned Prince Mohammed’s policies, and the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

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