Responding to the news that Raif Badawi, a prominent blogger and human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained solely for freely expressing his opinions, remains in detention despite completing an unjust 10-year prison sentence on 1 March, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef said:
“Raif Badawi has spent a decade behind bars solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. The Saudi Arabian authorities must ensure his immediate and unconditional release and lift the unlawful travel ban imposed on him so he can finally reunite with his family.
“Raif Badawi’s ongoing detention reveals the Saudi Arabian authorities’ utter contempt for the right to liberty, freedom of expression and even their own laws. It also shows that their attempts to present a progressive image to the world serve as little more than a smokescreen to hide their repression.
“The Saudi Arabian authorities’ crackdown on civil society and freedom of expression must end. Raif Badawi and all prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Raif Badawi was detained on 17 June 2012 and sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban and a 1 million Saudi Arabian riyal (about USD 267,000) fine for creating an online forum for public debate and accusations that he insulted Islam. He was also sentenced to a cruel and inhuman punishment of 1,000 lashes, the first 50 of which were meted out in a public square in Jeddah on 9 January 2015.
Over the last few years, the Saudi Arabian authorities have invested heavily in PR stunts to rebrand their image and attempt to deflect attention from their brutal crackdown on activists and human rights defenders. Although there was a brief lull in executions and prosecutions of activists during Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 summit, that ended immediately after the event when the authorities ramped up their repression once again.