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Saudi blogger Raef Badawi's flogging postponed again

BEIRUT |, with agencies - January 30, 2015, 15h55
The flogging of Saudi Arabian blogger Raef Badawi was postponed again, AFP agency announced, while quoting Badawi's wife.
The Saudi authorities postponed Friday for the third week in a row the flogging of Raef Badawi. In 2014, the blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for insulting Islam. He had launched a website for public debate, inviting people to share their view on the saudi society. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, told AFP that her husband "was not flogged" Friday. She said that the reason was unclear.

The 30-year-old received the first 50 lashes of his sentence outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on January 9. The sentence triggered international outrage.

The next round of the punishment was postponed for the following two weeks on medical grounds.

Further floggings could cause debilitating long-term physical and mental damage, a medical expert from the charity Freedom from Torture has warned in a report commissioned by Amnesty International.

Authorities in the Kingdom caused an international outrage earlier this month when Raef Badawi was flogged 50 times for creating and managing an online forum for public debate and “insulting Islam”.

Medical experts now say that the suffering he has endured may rise if his full sentence of 1,000 lashes is carried out.

“Flogging Raef Badawi was an unspeakably cruel and shocking act by the Saudi Arabian authorities. The practice violates the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under international law and should not be carried out under any circumstances; to do so repeatedly is likely to heighten the torment and suffering, both mental and physical, caused to the victim,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at Freedom from Torture, said the impact of a second set of lashes is likely to be even worse than the first.

“The more blows are inflicted on top of one another, the more chance of open wounds being caused. This is important because they are likely to be more painful and at risk of infection, which will cause further pain over a prolonged period as infection delays the wounds’ healing,” she said.

Dr Juliet Cohen further explained that the shirt Raef Badawi was wearing at the time of his last flogging would not have provided much protection from the force of the blow of the cane.

“When the cane strikes, the blood is forced from the tissues beneath... Damage to the small blood vessels and individual cells causes leakage of blood and tissue fluid into the skin and underlying tissue, increasing the tension in these areas,” she said.

Further impact from blows of the cane to these areas can cause the skin to split, particularly on a bony part of the body, so that an open wound appears, she explained.

In addition to the horrendous physical effects of flogging, victims also endure mental torment as a result of the punishment.

“Psychologically, flogging may cause feelings of fear, anxiety, humiliation and shame. Anticipation of the next scheduled flogging is likely to cause heightened emotions especially of fear, anxiety and difficulty sleeping… pain and fear together over a prolonged period have a deeply debilitating effect and recovery from such experiences may take considerable time,” said Dr Juliet Cohen.

Raef Badawi’s scheduled floggings on the two Fridays since his first flogging on 9 January had already been postponed on medical grounds, after doctors declared him unfit to be flogged.

"Raef is not alone in what he suffers; he's being talked about all around the world"

In Raef Badawi’s case, the involvement of doctors has led to the suspension – at least temporarily – of his punishment. But involving medical professionals in the process is itself of concern as they could be forced to sanction such punishments. This would be contrary to the most fundamental principle guiding the work of physicians: not to inflict harm intentionally.

Dr Juliet Cohen recommended support for Raef Badawi so that he knows “he is not alone in what he suffers but is being talked about around the world”, as well as support by medical associations, including the World Medical Association, for the doctors who are ordered to examine him, urging them “to consider their patient’s health above all else”.

Amnesty International has led rallies across the world in recent weeks in support of the blogger, calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and to quash his conviction.

“Raef Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, whose only ‘crime’ was to set up a website for public discussion, and the Saudi authorities must end their vicious campaign against him,” said Philip Luther.

“Flogging is prohibited under international law and carrying out such a cruel and inhuman punishment on a regular basis shames the country.”
#Raef_Badawi, #Saudi_Arabia, #Bloggers, #Freedom_of_speech
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