Day of the Imprisoned Writer Cases 2015: Raif Badawi (Saudi Arabia)

02 Nov 2015
Day of the Imprisoned Writer Cases 2015: Raif Badawi (Saudi Arabia)

This year marks the 34th annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression. This is one of the five cases that PEN has chosen to highlight this year:

On 17 June 2012, Saudi Arabian blogger and website editor, Raif Badawi, was arrested for organising a conference commemorating the “day of liberalism.” The conference, which was to have taken place in Jeddah on 7 May, had been banned by the authorities. Two years later, he was sentenced him to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine, and a 10-year travel ban for ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website’ by Jeddah’s Criminal Court. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created by Badawi to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed. On 9 January 2015, the first 50 lashes were administered to Badawi in a public flogging in Jeddah. This punishment was due to continue every Friday until he had received a total of 1,000 lashes. However, subsequent floggings have not gone ahead, initially because Badawi was deemed not to have recovered sufficiently from the previous punishment, though no explanation has been given for the postponement of further floggings. In October 2015, Badawi’s wife said that she had received information suggesting that the floggings might resume ‘soon’ inside prison. In early June 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court reportedly upheld Badawi’s sentence, leaving no room for appeal.

According to PEN’s information, Badawi intended to organise a conference in Jeddah on 7 May 2012 in order to mark a “day of liberalism”. This conference was banned by the authorities and on 17 June 2012 Badawi was arrested, charged with ‘founding a liberal website,’ ‘adopting liberal thought’ and ‘insulting Islam’. He was subsequently sentenced by a court in Jeddah on 29 July 2013 to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes under the information technology law. In addition, Liberal Saudi Network, which had been created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia, was shut down.

Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, submitted an appeal, presenting procedural and evidential reasons of why Badawi’s conviction should be overturned. In December 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned the sentence and sent his case for review by another court. On 7 May 2014 Jeddah’s Criminal Court convicted Badawi of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website,’ sentencing him to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (about US $266,631). According to PEN’s information, when he appeared in court to get a written account of his conviction he found out that he also had a 10-year travel ban and 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic and written media, both to be applied following his release, of which he was previously unaware.

In March 2015, unconfirmed media reports and declarations of Badawi’s wife, suggested that the blogger could face a re-trial on charges for apostasy, which could lead to the application of the death penalty. At the beginning of June 2015, the Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the prison term and lashes sentence, leaving no room for appeal.

Badawi’s lashes were ordered to be administered in batches of 50 per week over the course of 20 weeks. The first flogging took place on 9 January 2015; the lashes are administered in public after the Friday Prayer. Badawi’s hands and feet were bound while 50 lashes were administered over the course of 15 minutes. The next round of lashes had to be suspended, as the wounds of the previous round had not been healed. All subsequent rounds of flogging have since been postponed, although Badawi’s wife said in October 2015 that she had received information that the lashes were likely to resume ‘soon’ inside prison.

Badawi suffers from diabetes and the prison conditions are known to be very poor.


Raif Badawi is the co-winner of 2015 PEN Pinter prize alongside British poet and literary critic James Fenton. An anthology of his writings 1,000 Lashes. Because I say what I think was published this year and the proceeds are donated to the campaign for his release. He is also winner of the Reporters Without Borders -TV5Monde Prize for Press Freedom 2014; PEN Canada’s 2014 One Humanity Award; the 2015 Brussels University Alliance (VUB and ULB) Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression; the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award 2015; the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Courage Award 2015; the Scottish Secular Society Aikenhead Award 2015; the Franco-German Prize for Journalism 2015 and the 2015 European Union Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought..

Next to Amanuel Asrat and Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina, he was featured as “Empty Chair” in the 81st international Congress in Quebec City.

For more information on his case read PEN International’s interview with his wife, Ensaf Haider here.

On 6 June 2014, his lawyer and brother-in-law, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. PEN International believes that Abu al-Khair’s conviction is directly related to the peaceful exercise of his right of freedom of expression.

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to release Raif Badawi and his lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair immediately and unconditionally as they are being held solely for their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for Raif Badawi’s sentence of flogging to be overturned immediately as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Urging the Saudi Arabian authorities not to bring any charge of ‘apostasy’ against Raif Badawi;
  • In the meantime, calling for both men to be granted all necessary medical treatment and access to their families and lawyers of their choice;
  • Calling on Saudi Arabia to ratify, without reservation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Appeals to:
His Majesty
King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King, Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via the Ministry of the Interior): +966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Majesty

Minister of Justice
His Excellency Dr. Walid bin Mohammad bin Saleh Al-Samaani
Ministry of Justice
University Street
Riyadh 11137
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: 011 966 11 401 1741/ 011 66 11
Salutation: Your Excellency

Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed
bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministry of the Interior
P.O. Box 2933,
Airport Road, Riyadh 11134
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: + 966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Saudi Arabia in your country if possible. Details of Saudi Arabian embassies can be found here.

For further details please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International’s London Office: PEN International, Koops Mil, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: