Saudi blogger Raif Badawi freed after decade in prison

Raif Badawi with children (family handout)

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – jailed and sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam online” – has been freed, his wife says.

“Raif called me. He is free,” Ensaf Haidar told AFP news agency from Canada, where she fled with the couple’s three children.

Mr Badawi’s son Terad also tweeted: “My father is free.”

The blogger’s first 50 lashes caused a global outcry and he became an emblem of rights abuses in the country. His sentence ended on 1 March. However, he is subject to a 10-year-travel ban and it is unclear whether he will face other restrictions.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders said it would work to ensure he can join his family in Canada despite the ban.

Mr Badawi, now 38, established the Liberal Saudi Network, a forum that sought to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia, in 2008.

In 2012, Mr Badawi was arrested in the city of Jeddah and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”. Later that year, a judge recommended that he also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty, because Mr Badawi had refused to “repent to God”.

The image of Raif Badawi being flogged in public as punishment seared itself on world opinion: the slender figure of the young blogger in a white shirt in the midst of security forces and onlookers caused a global outcry.

After the first round of the 1,000 lashes to which he had been sentenced, Badawi was not subjected to such treatment again but he remained in jail. His wife Ensaf led a worldwide campaign for his freedom.

His sister Samar would later become one of a number of women activists imprisoned during the era of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the current de facto leader of the kingdom who has been distancing himself and his vision of the country from the hardline Wahhabi ideology that long defined it.

But while Raif Badawi was imprisoned for airing opinions unsanctioned by the once all-powerful clerical elite – many of whom have since found themselves in jail – the country is no more open to dissenting voices than it was 10 years ago. But that was not pursued by prosecutors, and in 2013 he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes by a criminal court on the initial charges.

In 2014, an appeals court upheld the conviction and increased the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 public lashes. It also fined him 1m Saudi riyals ($267,000; £217,000) and banned him from any media work or foreign travel for 10 years after his release.

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