Islamic Extremism Hiding In Plain Sight: Saudi Arabia Sentences Blogger For Bashing Islam
Published May 15th, 2014
America's complicated relationship with Muslim nations and the religion of Islam is clearly evident in its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A long time U.S. ally in the Middle East, the average American is no doubt unaware of the extreme levels to which Islam is practiced and regarded in this oil-rich nation.
For those who were unaware, the sentencing of a liberal blogger, himself a Saudi citizen, should help shed light on the extreme regard in which Islam is held in the Kingdom. While the monarchy in the Kingdom has long maintained a close relationship with the United States, it is clear that it remains a country run with the same sort of radical Islamist beliefs that the U.S. has gone to war with in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade.
Raif Badawi is the co-founder of the Saudi Arabian Liberals group and runs their website. He is a well-known thinker and blogger who uses the web encourage freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia. That freedom of expression has, however, made him a target of the radical Islamists in control of the country and now the government is looking to make an example of him.
What, you might ask, are his crimes? He spoke about Islam in a less than flattering light online and has now been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashings for the crime of expressing his free thought and opinion.
Timeline of Events
The government in Saudi Arabia first became aware of Badawi in 2012. He was arrested in June 2012 in connection to the cybercrimes, as well as for the crime of disobeying his father. He was originally imprisoned and sentenced to seven years and 600 lashes for violating cybercrime laws in the Kingdom, but in December 2013 those charges were overturned after appeal and his case sent to the Jeddah Criminal court for review. Initially, Badawi had been charged with apostasy which is punishable by death in the Kingdom.
Following his retrial the sentence was made worse as Badawi was handed the aforementioned 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashings. Additionally, he has been fined roughly $266,000 for his deeds. Amnesty International has called the entire verdict outrageous and has been calling for Badawi's punishment to be overturned.
Origin of Dispute
Saudi Arabia has been fighting to contain the kind of radical Islam that has engulfed neighboring states in the Middle East from bleeding across its borders. A number of laws have been introduced in recent years to clamp down on extremism, but it has given the government license to prosecute even peaceful forms of dissent.
Badawi's punishment is open for appeal, should he choose, but given the outcome of his last appeal it may only make matters worse. His last appeal garnered the stiffer punishment, and his lawyer now finds himself in prison as well. Waleed Abu al-Khair was Badawi's original appeals attorney, and is currently a guest of Riyadh's Malaz Prison on charges of breaking allegiance with the king. He has also been charged with sedition and appeared in court in April to face those charges.