Those of us who are lucky enough to live in America and other countries where personal freedoms to speak, think, and worship as we choose are recognized and protected rights are just that — lucky. Not everyone in the world is so fortunate.
Consider the case of Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger. He started an on-line forum called Liberal Saudi Network that sought to encourage discussion of religious and political issues in the kingdom. Badawi wrote about the importance of moving to a more secular state and published his views on issues like the continued existence of Israel — the Guardian has a story about some of his writings — and it was too much for the Saudi government. Badawi was arrested, narrowly avoided the death penalty for apostasy, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes — as well as a huge fine — for criticizing leading Muslim clerics and disobedience. His wife and their three children fled the country.
The lashes are to be administered publicly at a rate of 50 each Friday until the sentence is completed. After the first 50 lashes were struck outside a mosque in Jeddah, Badawi was so badly injured that a doctor concluded that he could not sustain another 50 lashes the following week, and the next round of lashes were postponed.
The treatment of Badawi has caused an international backlash, and now the Saudi King has referred Badawi’s sentence to the Saudi Supreme Court. Badawi’s supporters are hopeful that his sentence will be reduced, but there are no guarantees. Saudi Arabia has a long and brutal record of public beheadings, lashings, and other medieval forms of punishment, as well as repressive treatment of women, and its wealth and oil reserves have largely immunized it from the consequences of its conduct.
Those of us who live in free countries often take our liberties for granted. We shouldn’t.