Prominent Saudi online activist Raif Badawi will be flogged for the first time in public on Friday following prayers in front of a mosque in Jeddah, according to Amnesty International.
Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Arabian riyals (approximately $267,000) in May 2014 by a Saudi court accusing him of insulting Islam, said his wife and a source who followed the case closely.
A respected rights activist in Saudi Arabia, Badawi first got into legal trouble with the Saudi government after he started the Free Saudi Liberals website in 2008, which included a forum for users to discuss religion.
His trial, guilty verdict, sentence and imprisonment have raised outrage among international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which accused Saudi authorities of cracking down on activism and attempting to suppress dissent in the ultraconservative nation.
Human rights groups accuse Saudi authorities of targeting activists through the courts and travel bans. Amnesty International has said Badawi’s “is clear case of intimidation against him and others who seek to engage in open debates about the issues that Saudi Arabians face in their daily lives.”
Amnesty International considers Badawi a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his sentence to be quashed and for him to be released immediately and unconditionally.
“The news that Raif Badawi’s flogging will start tomorrow is shocking,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa.
In 2013, Badawi was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment. Following his arrest, his wife and children left the kingdom for Canada.
“It is horrifying to think that such a vicious and cruel punishment should be imposed on someone who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression,” said Luther.
CNN was unable Thursday to reach Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry for comment.
The U.S. State Department said it was concerned about the flogging and sentence imposed on Badawi “for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion.”
“The United States government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice.”