Raif Badawi

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Raif Badawi is a prominent blogger known for advocating secularism and a homegrown liberal system of governance in Saudi Arabia. Arrested in 2012, Badawi in 2014 was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

Badawi, the founder of an online discussion forum, was arrested by Saudi security forces in Jeddah on June 17, 2012, according to Gulf News. In July 2013, he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes on charges of defamation of religion, according to Reuters. 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, Reuters reported in a separate article.

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 Ensaf Haidar said he told her that the next set were delayed because a doctor said he was not in good enough health to receive them.

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, according to news reports and Badawi’s official Twitter account, run by his wife.

The charges against Badawi stemmed from his support for free discussion of liberal values in Saudi Arabia. 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 Centre for Human Rights who has been in touch with the blogger’s family, told CPJ in September 2017 that Badawi’s health had improved.

According to a report by Canadian state broadcaster CBC and a Washington Post article, Badawi’s sister Samar Badawi—a prominent women’s rights activist—was arrested in August 2018; she appeared in court in June 2019, according to reports. Her arrest drew protests from Canada’s foreign ministry, which also criticized Badawi’s continued imprisonment, according to a separate CBC article.

On September 21, 2019, Haider–Badawi’s wife, who lives in Canada–tweeted that Badawi had ended a weeklong hunger strike after Saudi Human Rights Commission supervisor Awwad Alawwad visited him in prison. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported September 22, 2019, citing Haider, that he had begun the hunger strike to protest lack of medication and care for kidney pain.

On August 30, 2020, Haidar posted on her Twitter account that another prisoner had attempted to assassinate him, prompting Badawi to begin a hunger strike protesting his lack of protection in the prison. On August 31, 2020 Haidar told The Canadian Press that based on a brief phone call with Badawi, she believed the attack happened a few weeks previously and that Badawi felt unsafe because he was sharing a cell with 15 other prisoners. On September 1, 2020, Haidar posted from her husband’s Twitter account, which she runs, that he had ended his hunger strike after a member of the Saudi government-run Saudi Human Rights Commission visited him in prison and asked about his needs. In late 2021, CPJ attempted to reach Haidar via messaging app for an update on Badawi’s health and case but received no reply. 

In March 2021, members of Badawi’s international legal team were quoted in new reports and op-eds saying that Saudi authorities were investigating him on charges of “inciting public opinion” and “damaging the reputation of the country abroad.” 

In October 2021, CPJ emailed the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an organization providing international legal counsel to Badawi, about whether Badawi had been formally charged in the investigation but did not receive a response. 

Al-Qst, a Saudi-focused human rights organization, told CPJ via email that as of December 2021 it did not have any new information on Badawi’s case. 

As of late 2021, CPJ could not determine the status of Badawi’s health in prison.

In September 2021, CPJ emailed the Saudi Center for International Communication, a department in charge public relations housed in the media ministry, requesting comment on the health and status of Badawi and other imprisoned journalists, but did not receive a response.