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Saudi Arabia: Free Speech Doesn't Apply Here

January 9, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Free Speech Doesn't Apply Here

Just two days after issuing a condemnation of the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, the government of Saudi Arabia began carrying out a public flogging against blogger Raif Badawi, who in May was sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Badawi is no stranger to controversy. The 30-year-old Saudi blogger was first detained in 2008 on apostasy charges (which can carry a death sentence), before being released the next day. In 2012, he was once again arrested and charged with "setting up a website that undermines general security," "ridiculing Islamic religious figures," and "going beyond the realm of obedience." The offending website? "Saudi Arabian Liberals," a discussion forum set up to promote debate about the role of religion in the kingdom.

Badawi is not the only Saudi facing extreme charges for his speech. His lawyer, Waleed Abu Khair, was sentenced in July to fifteen years in prison for setting up a human rights monitoring group. Abu Khair was slapped with a number of charges, including “setting up an unlicensed organization” and “breaking allegiance with the ruler.”

While Saudi Arabia is decrying terrorist attacks on the media in France, it's using its own "anti-terror" laws to convict free speech advocates. And despite its close alliance with the United States, the Saudi government has ignored US urgings and carried out the flogging.  Based on the two countries' history, it's unlikely the US condemnation will have any effect whatsoever.

EFF wholeheartedly condemns both the punishment and the sentence handed to Raif Badawi and urges the government of Saudi Arabia to release both him and Waleed Abu Khair immediately.

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