Saudi Arabia: Travel ban against blogger for criticising religious police
On 6 December 2009, blogger and human rights defender, Mr Ra’if Badawi, was stopped at Jeddah airport and prevented from travelling to Beirut. No official explanation was given for the travel ban or its time limit; however, it is believed that it is related to charges brought against Ra’if Badawi in relation to a website he set up, in which he has criticized the religious police for violations of human rights.
Ra'if Badawi's travel ban follows an ongoing pattern of measures taken against him. Ra'if Badawi was originally detained by the Saudi Arabian prosecution service in March 2008, when he was kept in custody for one day and interrogated intensively over the course of the following two days about his writings on the internet, in which he used to detail abuses by the Saudi religious police and to question the predominant interpretation of Islam. Unknown persons have hacked Ra'if Badawi’s website on numerous occasions, and have published his phone numbers, work address, and a threat to his life on the hacked site. Prosecutors have not investigated the hackers or the death threats against Ra'if Badawi.
On 15 April 2008, Ra'if Badawi left Saudi Arabia. On 5 May 2008, the prosecution service in Jeddah charged Ra’if Badawi with “setting up an electronic site that insults Islam,” and referred the case to court, asking for a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal (US$800,000) fine. Ra'if Badawi returned to Saudia Arabia on 20 December 2008, but in May 2009 Al-Hayyat daily newspaper reported that the bank accounts of Ra’if Badawi and his wife had been frozen. A month later, he was summoned by a high officer at the Public Intelligence Office (Mukhabarat) who promised to drop the case against him. However, to date his legal status has not changed. Ra'if Badawi is still prevented from travelling out of Saudi Arabia and his bank accounts are still frozen.
Front Line believes that Ra'if Badawi's ongoing travel ban and legal charges are directly related to his work in defence of human rights, particularly through his criticism of the religious police for violations of human rights. Front Line sees this as part of a pattern of ongoing harassment against Ra'if Badawi, and is concerned for his physical and psychological integrity.
Front Line urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against and lift the travel ban on human rights defender Ra'if Badawi as it is believed that these measures have been taken against him solely on account of his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;
2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Ra'if Badawi as well as that of his family;
3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are free to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.