Before I move on to other topics, I wanted to provide an update on Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger sentenced to a thousand lashes for his criticism of the political and religious establishment in his country. Following the offer by seven of us on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to take a hundred lashes each on his behalf, by popular demand we also launched a site for people all around the world to sign up to take a lash (symbolically, at least) as well. Once that petition surpassed a thousand signatories, we sent a followup letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington reiterating our stance and encouraging his government to take note of the worldwide support for the beleaguered victim. You can read the letter and petition here.
Since the first installment of the lashings (meant to be fifty a week for twenty weeks), there has been a series of postponements, so Raif Badawi has been spared further brutality–thus far. The question, of course, is what happens next. No one really knows, except that the intense international pressure (for which we are only partly responsible, to be sure) does seem to have convinced the Saudi government that it cannot go ahead with the intended barbarism. This is just the effect we hoped for, but it’s a tricky thing: Intense pressure is necessary to sway the government, but the government–especially under a new king–surely wants to avoid appearing to have bowed to international pressure. So then it becomes a matter of how, or whether, the government can find a face-saving way to back down. There was a glimmer of hope when the case was referred back to court, an odd (and therefore perhaps promising) development given that Badawi had already been sentenced and his punishment already begun. That optimism was dashed when it was reported that the referral of his case back to court meant that the apostasy charge, which carries the death penalty and which had previously been thrown out by a higher judge, could be back on the table. Fortunately, some politicians, including in Quebec, where Badawi’s family now lives, are keeping up the pressure; it is clearly bothering the Saudis. One hopes that they will soon capitulate and perhaps release him to Canada, even if they have to do it without ever admitted they were wrong. One also hopes that the international community can sustain the attention necessary to see this injustice brought to an end.