Raif Badawi, founder of a website for political and social debate, “Saudi Arabian Liberals”, has been detained since 17 June 2012 in a prison in Briman, in Jeddah. He was charged with “setting up a website that undermines public security” and ridiculing Islamic religious figures. His trial began in June 2012 in the District Court in Jeddah, and was marred by irregularities. According to his lawyer, the original trial judge was replaced by a judge who had advocated that Raif Badawi be punished for "apostasy". His lawyer contested the judge’s impartiality in the case.

The charges against Raif Badawi relate to a number of articles he has written, including one about Valentine’s Day – the celebration of which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. He was accused of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (also known as the religious police) in the conclusion of his article. The charges against him also mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website, including one insinuating that the al-Imam Mohamed ibn Saud University had become “a den for terrorists”. On 17 December, the District Court in Jeddah referred the case to the General Court in Jeddah, recommending that he should be tried for "apostasy". On 22 December the General Court in Jeddah had Raif Badawi sign documents to enable his trial for "apostasy" to proceed.

On 21 January the General Court sent the case back to the District Court stating that they did not have jurisdiction to review his case and that they had found that he had not insulted Islam and therefore it did not amount to an “apostasy” charge. The general prosecutor however is still insisting that Raif Badawi be tried for apostasy. The case is currently before an appeal court to determine whether the case should be heard by the District Court in Jeddah or another tribunal, in particular the General Court in Jeddah, to which it was previously referred.

Amnesty International considers Raif Badawi to be a prisoner of conscience. Act now to call on the authorities for his immediate and unconditional release.




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On 22 December 2012, a court in Saudi Arabia decided to proceed with the prosecution of online activist Raif Badawi for apostasy, a charge which carries the death penalty, in what Amnesty International said was a new bid to stifle political and social debate.

See Saudi Arabia uses capital offence of ‘apostasy’ to stifle debate, 24 December 2012.


On 28 December 2012, Raif Badawi was taken to hospital for treatment. He was found to have developed diabetes.

See Website Founder on trial for apostasy, 4 January 2013.


On 21 January the General Court considered that it did not have jurisdiction to review Raif Badawi’s case and that found that he had not insulted Islam and therefore it did not amount to an “apostasy” charge. Raif Badawi’s case subsequently came before the appeal court to decide on the jurisdiction of the case, while the prosecutor continued to call for the “apostasy” charge.

See Website Founder’s case before Appeal Court, 28 March 2013.



On 24 April 2013, a university professor was detained for four months as a result of an arbitrary court order, during a trial in which he faces charges relating to co-founding a human rights organization. Amnesty International described his detention as the latest blow to freedom of expression and assembly in the Gulf kingdom.

See Saudi Arabia court orders arbitrary detention of human rights defender, 25 April 2013.


During the first quarter of 2013, the Saudi Arabian authorities resorted to additional measures to augment those they have previously used to repress freedom of expression and of association. After imprisoning dozens of prominent human rights activists in 2012, the Saudi Arabian authorities expanded the scope of their repression of peaceful activists by imposing more travel bans for unspecified reasons and durations, by disbanding at least one civil society organization and removing its social media accounts, and taking steps towards banning social media applications if these cannot be fully monitored and controlled.

See Saudi Arabia: 2013 promises to be a dark year for freedom of expression and of association, 10 April 2013,


On 9 March 2013, two human rights activists were sentenced to five and 10 years’ imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, providing yet another stain on the country’s record when it comes to attacking free expression.

See Saudi Arabia punishes two activists for voicing opinion, 11 March 2013


For more information on violations of freedom of expression in the name of security see the report Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security, November 2011. To see all our public documents click on Saudi Arabia.

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