International Academics Appeal To Saudi Arabia: ‘The Time Is Ripe For New Thinking’

While human rights campaigners have been protesting corporal punishment around the world for decades, it is the current case of writer Raif Badawi, 31, that is now focusing international attention on the practice in Saudi Arabia, reports The Wall Street Journal. Badawi was convicted of a range of crimes, including “insulting Islam” and “adopting liberal ideology,” and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, and 1,000 lashes. The public flogging was scheduled to be administered in 20 sessions of 50 lashes. Badawi has so far been subjected to one session.

CNN reports that Badawi – whose wife and children reside in the West – received his first 50 lashes while France was reeling from terrorist attacks perpetrated by Islamic extremists, whose motivation was the desire to punish religious insults on the part of cartoonists. Saudi Arabia had released a statement of condemnation in response to those attacks.

“The Kingdom…strongly condemns and denounces this cowardly terrorist act that is rejected by true Islamic religion as well as the rest of the religions and beliefs.”

The Saudi Ambassador to France also attended a Paris rally, along with other world leaders, aimed at supporting free speech.

The visibility of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia has become particularly difficult for the Kingdom since it has denounced ISIS and its brutality. CNN reports that Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded 19 of its citizens in the same month that ISIS murdered journalist James Foley.

As reported by The Independent, a group of Nobel Laureates have penned a letter to academics within the Kingdom, urging reform at a time when Saudi Arabia continues to attempt to re-position itself in a strong stance within the region with regards to counter-radicalisation. The signatories hail from the U.S, Australia, South Africa, France, Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan, Canada and the U.K, and write in reference to KAUST – the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – and the hope that it can become a global leader in education and research.

“We write out of concern that the fabric of international cooperation may be torn apart by dismay at the severe restrictions of freedom of thought and expression still being applied to Saudi Arabian society. We have no doubt that members of KAUST share that concern, aware that the cruel sentence passed, for example, on Mr Raif Badawi who established a forum for open discussion, sent a shock around the world. We take real hope from the fact that the government of Saudi Arabia, responding to international outcry, is re-considering that sentence.

“It is in this context of a new willingness to listen to pleas on behalf of tolerance what we write to you today. We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable. The time is ripe for new thinking after millions in Paris, supported by the government of Saudi Arabia, demonstrated on behalf of minority views.”

The international response to this high profile case has apparently prompted King Abdullah to ask the Supreme Court to review the case. This step, while seen as a positive move by many observers, highlights a Saudi Arabia not often seen by the rest of the world, and which is at odds with the outward image usually presented. The judiciary of Saudi Arabia is largely based in Islam – using sharia courts for the majority of its cases. Without the requirement for application of case law, however, sentencing is generally determined at the discretion of individual judges, with the final word resting with the King.

Other, recent cases in Saudi Arabia that have made international news include a man reportedly arrested for filming and releasing the footage of a public beheading, and two women referred to a “terror” court for driving a car.

[Image via Boing Boing]

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