On Friday, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabian authorities began carrying out their sentence of 1,000 lashes for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, co-founder of a web site, now banned, called the Liberal Saudi Network. The whipping began with 50 lashes, a process which according to various reports will be repeatedly roughly weekly until all 1,000 lashes have been inflicted — some 50 lashes per week, over the next 20 weeks. That’s just part of his sentence. As Amnesty International summarizes the case:
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$266,000) last year for creating an online forum for public debate and accusations that he insulted Islam.
Reporters without Borders, which has been calling for Badawi’s sentence to be overturned, released a statement that his “only crime was to start a public debate about the way Saudi society is evolving.” The BBC, drawing on AFP eye-witness quotes, summarizes the scene of the lashing in Jeddah:
Mr. Badawi arrived at the mosque in a police car and had the charges read out to him in front of a crowd.
He was then made to stand with his back to onlookers and whipped, though he remained silent, the witnesses said.
This first bout of the lashing of Badawi has been greatly overshadowed in the news by the Islamist rampage of terror and slaughter in Paris. But it is also something the free world must reckon with. It is part of the omerta that in so many variations, in so many places, hangs over free speech and open debate about Islam.
Last year, Saudi Arabia won election to a three-year seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council — for the third time since 2006. When the Saudi government filed a Note Verbale with the UN in October, 2013, transmitting the voluntary pledges and commitments that were part of its candidacy, that document included such statements as:
The Islamic sharia, from which Saudi Arabia derives its regulations, stresses the protection of human rights and prohibits the violations thereof.
There are seven pages of this sort of material, with 43 items, culminating in Saudi Arabia’s pledge that it will:
Continue to shoulder its humanitarian responsibility to protect and promote human rights at the national level by enacting legislation and establishing mechanisms that strengthen the institutional framework for human rights, and by adopting best practices in the field of human rights.
Evidently, by these lights, “best practices” include the public whipping every week, for 20 consecutive weeks, of a blogger who tried to exercise what is ever more quaintly known in the West as free speech.