‘When the worshippers saw the police van outside the mosque, they knew someone would be flogged today.’
On this day last year, just after noon, security officials in Saudi Arabia led a 30-year-old man into a square in Jeddah. A crowd had filed out from the mosque on the square after Friday prayers.
The man was handcuffed and shackled, but his face was uncovered; this was a public punishment, designed to humiliate.
The man ‘raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.
‘It was very quick, with no break in between lashes. When it was over, the crowd shouted, ‘Allah-hu Akbar! Allah-hu Akbar!”
It’s been one year since Raif Badawi was flogged 50 times for championing free speech and encouraging debate about reform on his blog, Saudi Arabian Liberals. That flogging was the first in a sentence of 1,000 lashes that still hangs over him – alongside a decade in prison, a fine of 1 million Riyal (over a quarter of a million US dollars), and an outright ban on using media or travelling abroad for ten years following his decade in prison.