Saudi Arabia plans to delay the public flogging of a rights activist on medical grounds, Amnesty International said on Thursday, raising the possibility that Riyadh may be trying to quietly drop the punishment that has drawn international rebuke.
Raif Badawi, a blogger and founder of the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of SAR1 million ($267,000) and 1,000 lashes.
He was arrested in June 2012 for offences which included insulting Islam, cyber crime and disobeying his father – a crime in Saudi Arabia.
Badawi was subjected to the first 50 lashes two weeks ago but a second round of flogging, scheduled to be held last Friday after prayers was postponed, ostensibly on medical grounds.
Amnesty International, in a statement sent to Reuters on Thursday, said Badawi’s planned flogging on Friday will be suspended again after a medical committee assessed that he should not undergo a second round of lashes on health grounds.
“The committee, comprised of around eight doctors, carried out a series of tests on Raif Badawi at the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah yesterday (Wednesday) and recommended that the flogging should not be carried out,” the statement said.
Political stakes over Badawi’s case, which included a charge of insulting Islam, have been heightened by this month’s attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and its subsequent publication of more cartoons lampooning Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
The United States had called on Riyadh to cancel the sentence of 1,000 lashes.
Amnesty said Badawi was still at risk of flogging despite the medical report, and called on authorities to “publicly announce an end to his flogging”.
“There is no way of knowing whether the Saudi Arabian authorities will disregard the medical advice and allow the flogging to go ahead.”