Saudi Arabia delays more flogging of convicted blogger, cites medical reasons, says Amnesty



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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi authorities on Friday postponed the second round of public flogging of a blogger convicted of insulting Islam after a doctor concluded that his wounds from the first 50 lashes had not yet healed, a leading human rights group said.

Amnesty International said authorities delayed administering the 50 new lashes to Raif Badawi, which were set to take place after midday prayers. The group said Badawi was taken to a prison clinic in the morning for a check-up and that the doctor found that "he would not be able to withstand another round of lashes at this time."

According to the group, the doctor recommended Badawi's flogging be postponed for a week.

Badawi's first public flogging took place last Friday before dozens of people in the Red Sea city of Jiddah. The father of three was taken to a public square, his feet and hands bound, and whipped 50 times on his back before being taken back to prison.

A person close to Badawi's case said King Abdullah's Royal Court late last year referred the case to the Supreme Judicial Council, which has the power to refer it to yet another court. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution, said the Council has yet to respond.

The 90 year-old Saudi monarch, who was diagnosed recently with pneumonia, has not been involved in the proceedings.

Badawi was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing Saudi Arabia's powerful clerics and ridiculing the country's morality police on a liberal blog he founded. The Jiddah Criminal Court also ordered he pay a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals, or about $266,000.

The lashes are to be administered over 20 weekly sessions, with 50 lashes each week. Both the U.S. State Department and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights have called on authorities in Saudi Arabia to cancel the punishment.

Rights groups and activists say his case is part of a wider clampdown on dissent in the kingdom. Criticism of clerics is seen as a red line because of their influential role in supporting government policies. The clerics' ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of religion is effectively the law of the land.

The 31-year-old Badawi has been held since mid-2012 and his Free Saudi Liberals website is now closed. He was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment. Following his arrest, his wife and children left the kingdom for Canada.

Badawi's lawyer, Waleed Abul-Khair, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and barred from traveling for another 15 years after he was convicted by an anti-terrorism court of "undermining the regime and officials," ''inciting public opinion" and "insulting the judiciary."

"The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous," said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty's deputy director for Middle East and North Africa.

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