Badawi, a blogger and the founder of an online discussion forum, was arrested by Saudi security forces in Jeddah on June 17, 2012, according to news reports. In July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and 600 lashes on charges of defamation of religion. The sentence was increased on appeal in May 2014 to 10 years' imprisonment, 1,000 lashes, a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (approximately US$267,000), and a 10-year ban on travel and media activity to begin after his release.
On June 7, 2015, news outlets reported the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Badawi's sentence.
On March 20, 2017, Saudi authorities again upheld the verdict against Badawi and demanded that he pay the 1 million riyal fine for insulting Islam, according to news reports and Badawi’s official Twitter account.
In December 2015, Badawi was transferred to Dhahban Central prison outside Jeddah, according to the Raif Badawi Foundation, established after Badawi's arrest by his wife Ensaf Haidar in Canada to promote freedom of speech in the Arab world. The foundation said the move was a shock because the prison is reserved for prisoners whose verdicts are final.
In an article published in August 2015, Haidar told the U.K. paper, The Independent, that a member of the Saudi justice ministry had told her the Supreme Court would review her husband's case again. In November that year the Swiss foreign ministry in Switzerland, which like other Western countries has been lobbying the government on Badawi's case, announced that the procedure to obtain a royal pardon had begun.
In January 2015, 50 of the 1,000 lashes were carried out in one public session. In a book she wrote about his case, Badawi's wife Haidar said he told her that the next set were delayed because a doctor said he wasn't in good enough health to receive them.
The charges stemmed from Badawi's support for free discussion of liberal values in Saudi Arabia, a country founded upon a strict interpretation of Islam. In 2006, Badawi founded an online discussion forum called "Saudi Liberals." By 2008, the forum had grown to more than 1,000 registered members who regularly discussed religion and politics.
In March 2008, Badawi was temporarily detained and his website shut down; two months later he fled the country, according to Human Rights Watch. But later that year, Badawi returned after prosecutors decided to not pursue charges.
In late 2008, Badawi and his partners upgraded the online forum and called it the Free Saudi Liberal Network, which garnered tens of thousands of registered members posting about religion and politics.
As influence of the forum grew, so did Badawi's presence in other media. He began writing columns for local websites including Al-Jazirah and Al-Bilad about the principles of secular, liberal thought and how to apply it to a Saudi context. In one article published in August 2010 for Al-Hewar al-Mutamaddin, an Arabic website for secular commentary, Badawi wrote "Freedom of expression is the air a thinker breathes, just as it is the fuel that lights the fire of his ideas." In one of the last articles for Al-Jazirah before his arrest, Badawi called on his readers not to blindly follow the Western model but to adopt the features of Saudi identity that are consistent with the "fundamental principles of liberalism."
According to English translations of court documents provided to CPJ by his family, Badawi received five years in prison for establishing the discussion forum and another five years for a series of Facebook posts the court deemed blasphemous. Only one of the discussion forum posts cited by the court was written by Badawi personally, according to the court documents.
Khalid Ibrahim, the executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights who has been in touch with the blogger’s family, told CPJ in September 2017 that Badawi’s health has improved. CPJ could not determine whether authorities will resume the lashings.
According to a report by Canadian state broadcaster CBC and a Washington Post article, Badawi’s sister Samar Badawi was arrested in August 2018. Canada’s foreign ministry criticized Saudi leadership for Samar’s arrest and Raif’s continued imprisonment, leading to a diplomatic standoff which saw Saudi Arabia expelling Canada’s ambassador, according to a separate CBC article. In the article, Haidar told CBC that she was afraid for her husband’s safety in the wake of the standoff.