Saudi activist Raif Badawi sentenced to 7 years, 600 lashes for insulting Islam


Saudi Arabian men wait outside the Masmak Palace to show allegiance to the kingdom's new Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh on June 23, 2012.

Saudi activist and blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced on Monday to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for insulting Islam.

A Jeddah Criminal Court found Badawi, who has been in jail since June 2012, guilty of violating the country's anti-cybercrime law by insulting Islam through his website and comments he made on TV.

Charges of apostasy, which could have led to a death sentence, were dropped.

He is expected to receive written notification of his sentence by Aug. 6, and his lawyers will have 30 days to appeal. 

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It was unclear if Badawi, 35, would receive any credit for time already served.

"This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia's claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue," said Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "A man who wanted to discuss religion has already been locked up for a year and now faces 600 lashes and seven years in prison."

Badawi, through his liberal-leaning website known as Free Saudi Liberals, had urged Saudis to discuss and share their opinions about the role of religion in Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict form of Islam that hands down harsh punishments for those who challenge the religion's customs.

Though Sharia law, which his strictly applied in Saudi Arabia, stipulates death as punishment for apostasy, defendants are generally given then chance to repent and escape being beheaded.

Another Saudi blogger, Hamza Kashgari, was deported back to his country in February 2012 from Malaysia. He is now being held in jail over blasphemy charges because of Twitter comments he made that were deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.

His comments led to numerous calls for execution, but he later said he repented.