A BLOGGER and critic of the regime in Saudi Arabia has been publicly flogged.
Raif Badaw was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in jail after being convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam.
Yesterday, it emerged he had been flogged 50 times, and campaigners say he will be whipped weekly.
The flogging took place outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after Friday prayers.
Eyewitnesses at the scene described how 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.
Mr Badawi, a father of three, is the co-founder of a now-banned website called the Liberal Saudi Network. It included articles critical of senior Saudi religious figures and others from Muslim history.
He was arrested in 2012. In 2013, he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence. Last year, Mr Badawi’s lawyer was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of a range of offences in an anti-terrorism court.
Human rights groups condemned his conviction and earlier this week officials in the United States appealed for clemency.
Said Boumedouha, of rights group Amnesty International, said: “The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law.
“By ignoring international calls to cancel the flogging, Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights principles.”
A spokeswoman for the US state department said that Saudi Arabia should review the case of Mr Badawi, who was arrested in June.
The officials urged Saudi authorities to “cancel this brutal punishment”.
The spokeswoman added: “We are greatly concerned by reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of 1,000 lashes, in addition to serving a ten-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion.
“The United States government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence.”
In addition to his sentence, Mr Badawi was also ordered to pay a fine of one million riyals (£175,000).
A friend of Mr Badawi said he was “being used as an example for others to see”.
Saudi Arabia does not tolerate political dissent. It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism, imposing harsh punishments.
Saudi Arabia’s legal code follows sharia law.
Judges are trained as religious scholars and have broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their interpretation of religious texts.
The country follows the rigid Wahhabi school of Islam, which demands harsh punishments for offences that are perceived as insulting or degrading the religion.
Saudi Arabia earlier this week condemned the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris – but the country has also in the past called for an international law to criminalise insults to the world’s main religions.