- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A top official of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling on authorities in Saudi Arabia to end the imprisonment of the Saudi journalist and activist behind the Free Saudi Liberals website.

Raif Badawi has been in Saudi custody since June 2012 on various charges, including insulting Islam through electronic channels and apostasy, which holds an automatic death sentence in Saudi Arabia, according to Mr. Badawi’s official website. USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza said Mr. Badawi’s detention inconsistent with Saudi Arabia’s goals as a nation.

“His public lashing and prolonged detention for peaceful speech directly contradict the Saudi government’s official narrative of working toward greater modernization and improving religious freedom conditions,” Ms. Maenza said.

The Saudi government argued Mr. Badawi’s dissident actions were a threat to general security and subjected him to increasingly brutal treatment for creating an online forum to discuss liberalism. In July 2013, he was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison. Ten months later, the sentenced was raised to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison, in addition to a one million riyal fine.

“Saudi Arabia’s persecution of Raif Badawi for peacefully expressing his beliefs is an egregious violation of his religious freedom,” Ms. Maenza said.

Others, such as Vice President Mike Pence, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have requested Mr. Badawi’s release.

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