Thinking Aloud: Saudi Arabia’s (Still) Abysmal Rights Record

Nov. 1, 2015 by Darius 

Since 1988, the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after a Soviet dissident, has been awarded by the European Parliament to a democracy activist. In practice, receiving the Sakharov Prize generally means that something bad has happened to you: previous winners include political prisoners in Egypt, Cuba, and Iran as well as Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian man whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring, and Malala Yousafzai, the girl made famous by being shot in the head by the Taliban. This year’s Sakharov Prize went to Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ imprisonment for “insulting Islam.”

Badawi is the founder of the website Free Saudi Liberals, which, not surprisingly, frequently criticized the Saudi government and, perhaps more shockingly, suggested that the separation of Islam and the state might be a good thing. He’s been in prison since 2012. Even before he was awarded the Sakharov Prize, Badawi’s case attracted plenty of international attention, especially when he was flogged 50 times earlier this year as the first installment of his sentence.

Most of the Sakharov Prize laureates are from countries with heinous governments that are also outside the fold of the Western system; Burma, Sudan, China, Belarus, Cuba, and Congo are among them. Saudi Arabia, though, is no Sudan. It’s a close US ally. And while the US has spoken out against Badawi’s individual treatment, it has never made addressing Saudi Arabia’s woeful human rights record any sort of priority. That must change.

Oh, and in case you thought Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Badawi was a one-off, you’d be wrong. The Saudis recently released, after considerable international pressure, a 74-year-old British citizen who’d been sentenced to 350 lashes for possession of homemade wine, but they are still set to behead and publicly crucify the 19-year-old son of a major Saudi Shia religious leader for participating in anti-government protests. Classy.

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