Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Raif Badawi’

Cameron’s Shameful Saudi Arms Sales

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th February, 2016

Yemen strikesWhen he visited the BAE Systems factory in Preston yesterday UK Prime Minister David Cameron boasted of his success in helping promote “brilliant” arms sales top Saudi Arabia, whereas he should have hung his head in shame. Of course the Desert Kingdom and other Gulf states have the right to defend themselves and it is natural that Britain, as a major arms producer, should wish to corner an important part of a lucrative market. However, Saudi Arabia is not a normal case, for at least two reasons. The first is the air campaign it has been waging in Yemen, which has caused not only immense physical damage — including, reportedly, to all the country’s universities — but serious civilian loss of life. All this in by far the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, in which hundreds of thousands of people, especially children are suffering from acute malnutrition. The second reason for Britain to balk at its cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia, rather than bask in it, is the Kingdom’s egregious human rights record. Since King Salman came to power, far from reducing the number of executions Saudi Arabia has accelerated their number. Medieval punishments are carried out under the false flag of religion, while women are still denied a full place in society and those who dare criticise the system, such as the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, face imprisonment, flogging or worse. The European Parliament rightly called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia this week, because of the Yemen conflict, though Mr Cameron’s Conservative MEPs failed to back that resolution. Labour politicians Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn, to their credit, have spoken out in Britain and Tim Farron and other Liberal Democrat figures have also made their revulsion known. But the spotlight needs to be turned on David Cameron, who is presiding over a government that has put human rights concerns on a back burner and which celebrates making billions from arms that are not for legitimate defence but for offensive action beyond Saudi’s borders and sometimes for domestic oppression as well.

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Shout out for Raif Badawi

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th December, 2015

imageYesterday, at the European Parliament, the wife of Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar, ¬†collected the Sakharov Prize on his behalf. An empty chair had a prominent place in the proceedings, as Badawi himself is still in prison for the “crime” of expressing his view that Saudi Arabia should become more democratic, and allegedly insulting Islam. His sentence was 10 years and 1,000 lashes, the latter to be administered in batches of 50 every Friday, though after the first dose of this medieval punishment he has been considered too unfit to receive it. But he has now been in jail for more than 1,300 days. The agony of not knowing each week whether he will be flogged or not is a form of torture no country should impose upon anyone. The new Canadian Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has called for Badawi to be pardoned and to be allowed to join his wife and three small children in Canada, where they have wisely sought safe haven. Although Saudi’s major trading partners (and arms suppliers), the United States and Britain, have put some sotto voce diplomatic pressure on Riyadh regarding the case, this has had no effect. Something stronger is needed, in the form of sanctions. Although there is the occasional glimmer of positive developments in the Desert Kingdom, such as the recent election of women municipal councillors in the first election in which women have been allowed to vote, there is much about the country’s legal system that is barbaric — including the high number of executions — and unfit for the 21st century. The West was not shy about condemning the faults of Communist states when Communism held sway in the Soviet Union and central and Eastern Europe, and it should not flinch from turning that critical eye on Saudi Arabia now.

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Speak up for Raif Badawi

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th June, 2015

imageimageIt’s three years since the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was detained and although so far he has only received 50 of the 1,000 lashes to which he was condemned, his health is of great concern. Raif’s “crime” was to suggest that it is possible to be Both Saudi and liberal — to have free thoughts and express them. To the duopoly of the conservative Saudi monarchy and the country’s antideluvian Wahabbi religious hierarchy, this was both heresy and political incitement. Many NGOs and human rights campaigners around the world have taken up Raif’s case, including English PEN, which has been holding weekly demonstrations outside the Saudi Embassy in London. Some Western political leaders have mentioned the case when in discussion with the Saudi royal family, who frankly ignore such approaches as they are not backed with even a hint if any sanction. I’m ashamed that Britain is one of the prime offenders when it comes to appeasing the Saudis, because of arms sales, oil and other strategic interests. How can the UK claim the moral high ground when it turns a blind eye to the ongoing human fights abuses in the desert kingdom, including regular public beheadings? I fear that one day in the not too distant future Saudi Arabia’s rulers will be overthrown in a bloody revolution, but imprisoning and mistreating liberal nationals like Raif Badawi makes that prospect more likely, not less. King Salman is ushering in a new generation of Saudi royals, but that should be the prelude to far more radical political reforms.

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Blasphemy Laws Are Medieval

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th January, 2015

Raif BadawiJe Suis CharlieGiven the blanket media coverage of events in Paris over the past week many people will probably have missed the distressing news that on Friday, after midday prayers, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a public flogging, an act of medieval barbarity that is due to be repeated another 19 times on Fridays until the full 1,000 lashes sentence imposed on him for using electronic media to “insult Islam” has been implemented. Other words banded about in his case have included blasphemy and apostasy (renunciation of one’s faith), the latter meriting the death penalty in some extremist Islamic states. Of course, to any rational modern human being these “crimes” are not crimes at all and certainly do not deserve harsh punishment. I do not believe in gratuitously insulting someone else’s religion, but surely God and the Prophets are strong enough to stand up for themselves in the face of any such criticism, satirical or otherwise? At the heart of the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in France and elsewhere, in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, was the principle of free speech — an essential element not just of modern western civilization but of universal values of human rights, thanks to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by all members of the UN, including gross abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis base their antediluvian approach to blasphemy and other such “offences” on their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which was, frankly, outmoded in the late 18th Century when it arose, and when the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, let alone now. On Sunday, a wide range of world leaders gathered in Paris for the Je Suis Charlie march. But many of these same leaders are themselves guilty of curbing free speech, persecuting and even killing writers and journalists. All have a duty to improve their own records, as well as turning the spotlight on the worst culprits, including Saudi Arabia, applying sanctions where appropriate to reinforce their message. Those countries that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them now.

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