Activist to Receive Public Lashing Today in Solidarity with Raif Badawi

Claire Bernish.

Raif Badawi’s extreme sentence has drawn condemnation from a flood of human rights advocates, activists, and groups worldwide.

Claire Bernish (The Pontiac Tribune) — As an incredibly potent act of solidarity and as commentary on the value of free expression, Raymond Johansen plans to subject himself on Sunday to 50 of the same 1,000 torturous lashes that blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to suffer as punishment for apostasy in Saudi Arabia.

Hoping to catapult Badawi’s extortionate punishment back into focus and cast the spotlight on continuing torture practices worldwide, the Norwegian activist — himself a torture survivor — will receive the lashing in public at 9:30 pm in the middle of London’s Trafalgar Square.

The high court in Saudi Arabia ultimately imposed Badawi’s outrageously disproportionate punishment of 10 years in prison and 1,000 total lashes after the content and discussion encouraged by the Saudi Liberals blog he started in 2006 was deemed evidence of “adopting liberal thought” and “insulting Islam.”

In fact, for acting as legal defense for his brother-in-law Badawi in court, human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair has, himself, been sentenced to a 15 year prison term — in part for “inciting public opinion against the government” and “insulting the country’s leaders and judiciary.”

#FreeRaif - Stop the lashes!
#FreeRaif – Stop the lashes!

Suffering of Raif Badawi

Badawi’s lashes were supposed to be meted out in weekly sets of 50. But after enduring just the first set on January 9th, his body was so horribly battered that even though months have passed in the interim, a doctor has still not deemed him fit to receive the second.

Many observers echo the fears of his wife, Ensaf Haidar — who along with their children has been granted asylum in Canada — that any further lashes will mean the blogger’s certain death.

It is this very brutal and inhumane State-sponsored torture that Johansen seeks to bring needed attention to through his activism as an active member of Norway’s Pirate Party. He has been helping Raif Badawi and his family since 2013, and now runs the #Backlash social media campaign — which encourages people to upload photos of their backs emblazoned with red lipstick “lash” marks to promote awareness of and solidarity with this case.

Today, Johansen will take that solidarity to the extreme when he receives 50 lashes to his back — in the same manner Badawi has been condemned to suffer.

Anonymous UK Radio will show livestream video of the voluntary, public torture with a simultaneous live radio broadcast beginning at 3 pm — both can be found by following this link.

To further publicize the effort to free Badawi from his unjust imprisonment and punishment, the #Backlash campaign has moved into its next phase: #ReadRaif.

Advocating the importance of reading his words in the collection of essays that comprise his book, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, journalists, activists, bloggers, and celebrities around the world will pose with its cover prominently featured with a few even planning to subject themselves to public lashings, just as Johansen will on Sunday.

Detailed information about the campaign and the circumstances surrounding this case can be found at Raif Badawi‘s website.

Raif Badawi's new book.
Raif Badawi’s new book.

Badawi’s extreme sentence has drawn condemnation from a flood of human rights advocates, activists, and groups worldwide. Of all the notable voices speaking out, there is perhaps one voice, whose criticism from a unique position on the inside highlights the rest — Saudi Ambassador to the U.N., Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi.

In a June 13 address, Mouallimi proffered several arguments against Badawi’s extreme punishment — even questioning the House of Saud’s wisdom in carrying out the dual physical sentences of imprisonment and lashes combined with a hefty fine equal to over a quarter million dollars.

Mouallimi boldly intimated what seems to be the government’s true purpose — to “humiliate the offender and subject him to a public insult repeatedly.”

He offered examples from sacred Islamic teachings to suggest that just punishment for Badawi would have been limited to 10 lashes at most, and thus the reality of his sentence is in defiance of Sharia’a law. Mouallimi plainly asked, “Is the goal only causing damage and physical torture?”

As shocking as today’s event will be — both for Johansen and those witnessing the reality of what lashes entail — it is nonetheless voluntary. What Raif Badawi faces is not.

There are indications he has initiated a hunger strike, which — because this will virtually guarantee harsher living conditions and relocation to even stricter environs — are both a testament to his resolve and a cause for concern by his family.

You can help by spreading awareness about torture, sharing this and other articles about Badawi, and by participating in the campaigns as much as you are able.

Perhaps addressing your outrage to the appropriate government officials would be in order, as well — considering gross human rights violator Saudi Arabia remains to this day the treasured Middle East ally of the United States.

However you choose, make your voice heard for those, like Badawi, who are simply unable to do so, themselves.