Saudi Arabia: public flogging of blogger ‘cruel and inhuman,’ says UN rights chief

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

15 January 2015 – The top United Nations human rights official has issued an appeal to the Saudi Arabia to halt the punishment of Ra’ef Badawi, an online blogger sentenced to public flogging for “peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression,” according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

“Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a press release issued earlier today.

“Such punishment is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified,” he added.

According to OHCHR, Mr. Badawi, an online blogger and activist, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of $266,000. He was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged again tomorrow and every Friday until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been fully carried out, the agency said.

Mr. Badawi’s case is one of a succession of prosecutions of civil society activists in the Gulf State. Just last Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction of his lawyer and brother-in-law, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, who was arrested on 15 April 2014 in relation to his human rights advocacy activities.

Charged with several offences, including inciting public opinion against the State and its people, undermining the judicial authorities, inciting international organisations against the Kingdom with the intent of ruining its reputation, establishing a non-registered organisation and with gathering and publishing information, under the 2011 Law for Combatting Cyber-crimes, Abu Al-Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years following his appeal.

“I appeal to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Mr. Badawi, and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty,” continued Mr. Zeid.

The UN Committee against Torture – which oversees the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – and the Human Rights Committee have repeatedly voiced concerns about the use of flogging as punishment by Member States and have called for its abolition. Saudi Arabia’s report on its implementation of the Convention is up for review by the Committee against Torture next year.


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