Supporters of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi protest in Paris against his sentence of 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam, on May 7, 2015
Supporters of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi protest in Paris against his sentence of 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam, on May 7, 2015 © Stephane de Sakutin - AFP/File
Supporters of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi protest in Paris against his sentence of 1,000 lashes for
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Lynne Al-Nahhas
Last updated: October 29, 2015

The story of Saudi blogger Badawi, a fighter for free speech

Banner Icon Saudi blogger Raif Badawi -- sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam and winner of the Sakharov prize -- is a known passionate fighter for free speech.

His sentence has been called "medieval" by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstromm, while UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein termed it "cruel and inhuman".

The 31-year-old Badawi, also sentenced to 10 years' jail, received the first 50 lashes of his sentence in public in January.

Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed after worldwide outrage but Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, on Tuesday cited an "informed source" as saying the lashing will resume soon.

Born on January 13, 1984, Badawi is the father of two girls and a son. He married Haidar in 2001.

"Raif is very, very respectful. A very tender father. He is an amazing man," Haidar told AFP from Quebec, Canada, where she and the children have sought asylum.

Quebec has cleared the way for Badawi himself to go to Canada by listing him as a priority immigrant on humanitarian grounds.

The clean-shaven Badawi, who loves to read, studied economics and ran an English-language and computer learning institute, his wife said.

But he found his calling as a writer, focusing on free speech.

"He wanted dialogue among people. He wanted free speech and rights for women and all human beings. This is what always motivated him" and is why he created the Saudi Liberal Network, Haidar said.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the Internet site which Badawi co-founded as "an online discussion network whose aim is to encourage political, religious and social debates in Saudi Arabia".

- 'Day of liberalism' -

RSF last year named Badawi one of three winners of its press freedom prize.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 under cyber crime provisions, and a judge ordered the website shut down after it criticised Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police.

Like most Saudis, Badawi is a Sunni Muslim, but his network had announced a "day of liberalism" and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in the kingdom.

In 2013, a court in the Red Sea city of Jeddah sentenced him to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for insulting Islam and setting up the liberal network.

An appeals court overturned the original verdict, sending Badawi's case back for retrial when his sentence was increased to 10 years and 1,000 lashes.

The supreme court upheld that decision in June, according to Haidar.

When the first 50 lashes were carried out in Jeddah, Badawi did not make any sound or cry out in pain, witnesses said.

"Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, whose only 'crime' was to set up a website for public discussion," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director.

In his first letter from prison published by the German weekly Der Spiegel in March, Badawi wrote how he "miraculously survived 50 lashes".

Badawi recalled that he was "surrounded by a cheering crowd who cried incessantly 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest)" during the whipping.

"All this cruel suffering happened to me because I expressed my opinion," Badawi wrote.

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