Saudi Blogger & Activist To be Tried for Apostasy

On 25 December 2013, a Saudi judge recommended that a liberal activist and blogger Raef Badawi be tried again in a higher court for apostasy - a charge that could carry the death penalty, rights campaigners say.

Raef Badawi was already convicted and sentenced in the ultra-conservative kingdom in July to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for setting up a "liberal" network and for allegedly insulting Islam.

On Wednesday, 25 December a judge remanded Badawi to the General Court on charges of apostasy, rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair said.

Badawi, 35, was arrested in June 2012 in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons.The charges against Raif Badawi relate to a number of articles he had written and published on his blog site, including one about Valentine’s Day – the celebration of which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. He was accused of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (also known as the religious police) in the conclusion of his article. The charges against him also mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website, including one insinuating that the al-Imam Mohamed ibn Saud University had become “a den for terrorists”. 

His first trial began in June 2012 in the District Court in Jeddah.  The trial was marred by irregularities, causing his lawyer to contest the judge's impartiality in the case.

After Badawi's initial conviction, the appeals court had the case sent back to the court of first instance. But there, where the original judge was replaced with a newly-appointed judge, that judge remanded the case to the General Court, saying his lower court was not qualified to deal with the case.  The judge also recommended that Badawi be tried instead for the greater crime of apostasy - a crime in Saudi Arabia which can carry the death penalty.

The network that he co-founded with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari had declared May 7, 2012 a "day of liberalism" in the kingdom, calling for an end to the domination of religion over public life in Saudi Arabia.

The strict version of Islamic sharia law applied in Saudi Arabia stipulates death as a punishment for apostasy, but defendants are usually given the chance to repent and escape being beheaded.  Amnesty International considers Raef Badawi to be a prisoner of conscience, whose arrest and trial was motivated by political and religious considerations.