Liberal Hero of the Week #84: Raif Badawi

by Stephen Tall on January 16, 2015

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Raif Badawi

Saudi Arabian writer who created the Free Saudi Liberals website
Reason: for standing up for free speech against an autocratic regime

A lot of people have spoken up for free speech in the days since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It’s easy for us. The worst most of us can expect if folk disagree is a bit of flak on Twitter.

Not so in Saudi Arabia. Not so for Raif Badawi, who called for free speech on his website and as a result was sentenced to 1,000 lashes: 50 lashes every Friday for five months. Amnesty International describes his case:

Raif’s sentence stems from his creation of the website ‘Saudi Arabian Liberials’, which he envisaged as a forum for political and social debate. He was subsequently charged for content he had posted to the site, including an article published on Valentine’s Day 2012 in which he was accused of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – as well as failing to remove ‘offensive’ posts by other contributors.

Raif was arrested in June 2012. In May 2014 he was found guilty of breaking Saudi Arabia’s strict technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures by creating and managing an online forum. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal (over a quarter of a million US dollars), and prevented from using any kind of media or travelling until 2034. Raif simply championed free speech.

The Guardian has published excerpts of Raif’s writings. Here’s what he said in May 2012 about the nature of liberalism.

For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.

Often I use the term ‘Hero’ in this column metaphorically. Not this time.

You can support Amnesty International’s petition calling on Saudi Arabia to

Stop flogging Raif Badawi
Release Raif immediately: he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to free speech
Overturn Raif’s conviction and drop all sentences against him.

by adding your name here.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Research Associate at CentreForum. It showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.