3 Mar, 15 | by Iain Brassington
You must, by now, have heard of the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi. Just in case you haven’t (really?), here’s a potted biography: having set up the secularist forum Free Saudi Liberals, he was arrested for insulting Islam and showing disobedience. Among the formal charges he faced was one for apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi. The apostasy charge was dropped, but he was convicted on other charges and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. He appealed, and this sentence was changed: it became 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison. Why? Does it matter? Because Saudi Arabia. The latest update is that the apostasy charge may be renewed, so for a second time, he faces beheading. Part of the evidence against him is that he “Liked” a post on a Facebook page for Arab Christians. (Remember: Saudi is one of our allies against religious extremism.)
The lashes were to be administered in batches of 50, weekly, after Friday prayers. As I write this, he has only been flogged once; doctors have attested that he is not well enough to be flogged again. And – with thanks to Ophelia for the link – it’s not hard to see why:
Dr Juliet Cohen, head of doctors at Freedom from Torture, explained: “When the cane strikes, the blood is forced from the tissues beneath… Damage to the small blood vessels and individual cells causes leakage of blood and tissue fluid into the skin and underlying tissue, increasing the tension in these areas.
“The more blows are inflicted on top of one another, the more chance of open wounds being caused. This is important because they are likely to be more painful and at risk of infection, which will cause further pain over a prolonged period as infection delays the wounds’ healing.”
There is also the long-term damage done to the victim’s mental health caused by flogging.
“Psychologically, flogging may cause feelings of fear, anxiety, humiliation and shame. Anticipation of the next scheduled flogging is likely to cause heightened emotions especially of fear, anxiety and difficulty sleeping… pain and fear together over a prolonged period have a deeply debilitating effect and recovery from such experiences may take considerable time,” said Cohen.