The following article was published the first time on the Raif Badawi website on 24 March 2015. Here is a link to the article on this website. There is also a German version on that website, in case you are interested. Please look also at this website for petitions and other ways how you can help him.
I read the first time about Raif Badawi in January after he was flogged in Jeddah. I was immediately surprised and shocked by the harshness of the sentence – 10 years in prison, the equivalent of GBP 175,000 and – 1000 lashes. I thought and still think it’s hard to believe that in the 21st century any state would still have the power to lash its citizens.
I signed all petitions I could find, but I was determined to do more. When I read the Amnesty International website “5 ways you can help Raif Badawi”, I decided to start tweeting. I had a Twitter account since 2009, but never used it. This certainly has changed. Over the last weeks I have been tweeting every day – in the meantime more than 10,000 tweets. 90% cover just one subject – Raif Badawi. I have been protesting together with EnglishPen in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy, whenever I can get away from work, and have been writing letters and emails mainly to politicians and governments.
I asked myself over the last days, why this case preoccupies me so much and why I cannot forget it. Why do I think every day of Raif Badawi, even so I do not really know a lot about him?
I assume it is a combination of several factors:
1. The most important factor is the severity of the corporal punishment and the reason why he is punished. To lash someone for any crime is cruel and inhuman, but it is even more appalling, because the “crime” is something we all take for granted every day. Most of us use the internet and social media daily. We are used to say our opinion freely and criticise our countries and governments, if we think it is necessary. This right of free expression is something which is natural for us. It is something we sometimes not even question and something we probably not always treasure enough. To imagine that a young man who did the same as we do has to suffer such a harsh punishment for his actions is horrible.
2. The way the lashes are planned to be administered is another factor. To imagine the public humiliation in addition to the pain is difficult to bear. In addition, the long period of time it will take to give Raif Badawi all 1000 lashes means that considerable mental torment is added to the physical pain. We all are thankful that he is not beaten at the moment, but I assume that he is anxious because of the uncertainty whether they will start again to flog him. This might mean that the mental torment still continues, even if the physical torture has stopped for the time being.
The notion that the Saudi state “cares” for the prisoner and that medics are consulted on the question whether he is able to endure another round of lashes is horrific. It is absurd and outrageous that the wounds which were inflicted by the state have to heal enough to be opened by the state again and again. You almost have the impression that the state is eager to ensure that Raif Badawi will indeed suffer the full set of lashes without dying before he has received the last one.
3. I think also the timing of the start of the flogging contributed to my reaction. The shooting in Paris took place just a few days before the flogging. Saudi Arabia protested together with a large number of other states against this attack on the freedom of expression, even so they punished at the same time a man in the severest way for the exercise of the same universal human right. For me this is a hypocrisy which I find hard to bear. In addition this sentence is virtually the same type of punishments which are inflicted by ISIS. I cannot understand how anyone can condemn ISIS for beheadings and floggings and condone the same behaviour in Saudi Arabia.
4. The last reason is that for me Raif Badawi and his punishment raises a number of questions which go far beyond his person and his fate. It raises the question whether human rights are universal or whether the interpretation and boundaries of human rights differ depending on the cultural and religious background. I firmly believe that human rights are universal and inalienable, but ever so often this is questioned by non Western states. They usually reproach the West for not understanding their culture and their values and for trying to impose on them a purely Western concept of human rights.
At the same time this case asks every one of us and our governments, how we see the relationship of human rights on the one hand and economic and strategic interests on the other hand. Saudi Arabia is a country which many Western states see as an ally and partner for economic and strategic reasons. How far are the Western states prepared to insist on their understanding of human rights and what are the consequences on a larger scale? This is neither the time nor the place to discuss these questions in detail, but I think we all will have to deal with these questions now and also in the future, beyond the fate of Raif Badawi.
I am impressed and amazed by the global reach of the campaigns and protests we currently see in support of Raif Badawi. I hope that we all will not relent in our support, even if it might take longer to free him than we all wish for. I hope that we all continue to protest and campaign until he is released and reunited with his family.
Until then our campaigns and protests hopefully help Raif Badawi and his family to cope better with this terrible situation. I think we already have achieved something, if we help him and let him know that he is not alone in his struggle and not forgotten and that we will not look away, but will stay with him and support him until he is free.