OTTAWA (Reuters) - The wife of a Saudi rights activist, sentenced last year to 1,000 lashes for criticizing the Kingdom’s clerics in his blog, said on Thursday her husband’s health had worsened after the first round of flogging and that he could not survive the full punishment.
Raif Badawi, 31, a blogger and founder of the “Free Saudi Liberals” website, received 50 lashes on Jan 9. The second of 20 rounds in total has twice been postponed on medical grounds.
“Raif’s health condition is bad and it’s getting worse and worse,” said Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who lives with her three children in Canada after being offered refuge.
“I am very concerned about him. It is impossible for a human being to withstand 50 lashes every week,” she told a news conference in Ottawa, adding that Badawi was suffering from high blood pressure.
Badawi was arrested in June 2012 for offences including insulting Islam, cyber crime and disobeying his father, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail, a fine of 1 million riyals (US$266,000) and the flogging. His blog has since been shut down.
The United States has urged Riyadh to cancel the lashing.
Haidar, speaking through a translator, called on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene with new Saudi King Salman to have her husband released.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on Jan. 14 called for clemency in the Badawi case, saying the flogging was “a violation of human dignity and freedom of expression.”
Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch, said 150,000 people in Canada had signed a petition demanding the Saudis free Badawi.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alan Crosby