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Saudi govt pauses flogging dad-of-3 for Facebook posts – after docs intervene

1,000-lash punishment on hold, lawyer gets full jail sentence

It's been a case of one step forward and two steps back for Raif Badawi, the Saudi man facing 10 years in prison, and 1,000 lashes, for posting that he was an atheist and supporter of women's rights on Facebook and running a web forum for liberal Saudis.

Last Friday, Badawi received the first 50 of his 1,000-lash sentence in front of a large crowd at the Al-Jafali mosque in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. He was due to receive the next fifty lashes of his sentence on Friday this week, but the beatings have been suspended until next week as he is not medically fit for more lashes, doctors have ruled.

"Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity," said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program.

"The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous."

There is, however, some hope for 31-year-old Badawi. His wife Ensaf Haidar, who is now living in Canada with their three children, told the BBC that Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz, the King of Saudi Arabia, has referred her husband's case to the country's Supreme Judicial Council for review.

Good news, if it means a reprieve or reduction in sentence for Badawi. But he's going to need a new legal adviser – because his former lawyer (and brother-in-law) Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced to more time prison by the Saudi authorities this week.

Last year, al-Khair was given a 15-year sentence for such diverse crimes as "insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges," "harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations," and "preparing, storing and sending information that harms public order".

The courts threw him behind bars [PDF], along with a heavy fine and a 15-year travel ban once he's released, but suspended five years of his sentence, leaving him with 10 years in the cooler. However, on Monday, the court changed its mind, and he'll now spend those five years in prison for refusing to publicly acknowledge his "guilt."

The US State Department said it was "troubled" by the new sentence.

In the meantime the international clamor over the fate of Badawi and his lawyer is growing. On Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the Saudi government to reconsider the sentences, and this may have influenced the government's referral decision.

"The postponement of Badawi's flogging may have been for medical reasons but it's hard to believe that they would have referred the case for any reason other than responding to the sudden international pressure over the case," Paul Fidalgo, communications director for the Center for Inquiry (CFI), told The Register.

"The attention is there, that's great, but pressure needs to be more forceful. It would also be worth addressing the rather surreal fact that Saudi Arabia is currently on the UN Human Rights Council."

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He pointed out that when a CFI representative tried to raise Badawi's case in front of the Human Rights Council the Saudi representative spoke over her testimony and tried to get her removed from the meeting, saying: "I ask you to shut her up!" ®

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