Rejecting appeals by the international community for clemency, authorities in Saudi Arabia publicly flogged a blogger and rights activist who had been convicted earlier of insulting Islam, said news accounts from the Middle East Kingdom.
Rights activists who cited reports from eyewitnesses said that Raif Badawi, who previously had run a reformist online site, was lashed outside a Jeddah mosque. Jeddah is a city located on the Red Sea. Badawi was flogged following prayers on Friday.
The flogging was the first session of 20 mandated by the sentence handed down, which calls for 1,000 lashes. He will receive 50 in each session.
Badawi was also given a 10-year prison sentence and fined over $250,000.
The Saudi government, which is a big ally of the U.S. and part of the military coalition led by the U.S. that is confronting the Islamic State the Sunni radical militant group, brushed aside urgings by the Obama administration against what the U.S. State Department said, was brutal punishment.
Word the initial lashing session had been completed reignited the new outcries over the court’s decision drawing condemnation from many Western governments and rights groups across the globe like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Badawi supporters took to the Internet’s social media sites to express their outrage and fear over the health of the activist.
Like other monarchies that are hereditary across the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has little tolerance for any political dissent, and especially following the Arab Spring protests that hit the region over three years ago.
The government hands out harsh criminal sentences based upon Islamic law including amputations and beheadings.
Saudi Arabia has defied challenges to conservative social mores it holds. Two women who had violated a ban in Saudi on driving were recently referred to a court that handles anti-terrorism cases.
Badawi has been in custody since the middle of 2012 was sentenced initially in 2013 to a 7-year prison term and 600 lashes for religious insult and cyber crimes.
On appeal, his sentence was increased by 3 years and his lashes by 400.