US urges Saudis not to lash blogger

AFP , Monday 8 Jun 2015

The United States has joined the EU and France in urging ally Saudi Arabia to rescind a sentence of 1,000 lashes for a renowned human rights activist and blogger.

The State Department said it was "deeply concerned" by the Saudi supreme court's decision Sunday confirming a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes against Raif Badawi for insulting Islam.

In January, Badawi received the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes he was sentenced to in November 2014.

Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed on medical grounds. The latest court decision upheld the original sentence.

"As we had previously said back in January, the United States government continues to call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi's case and sentence," said Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman.

"We strongly oppose laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression."

Badawi, 31, co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network Internet discussion group.

He was arrested in June 2012 under cyber-crime provisions, and a judge ordered the website to close after it criticized Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police.

Last year, he won a press freedom award from Reporters without Borders.

His wife says she fears the lashing could resume within days.

Badawi's case has triggered an uproar in the West, but Saudi Arabia rejects any interference and criticism of its judicial system.

Both the European Union and France have also called on the Saudis not to inflict bodily punishment on Badawi.

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