Rights groups argue that the case against Badawi is part of a wider crackdown on freedom of speech and dissent in Saudi Arabia since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Criticism of clerics is seen as a red line because of their prestige in the kingdom, as well as their influential role in supporting government policies.
According to Amnesty the charges against Badawi mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website. He was also accused in court of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s morality police.
In a statement after the flogging Amnesty called it a “vicious act of cruelty” and said Badawi’s “only ‘crime’ was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up a website for public discussion”.
The US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the punishment an “inhumane” response to someone exercising his right to freedom of expression and religion.
In New York, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general, told reporters on Friday that the UN human rights office was “very concerned about the flogging” and had previously raised concerns about harsh sentences in Saudi Arabia for human rights defenders.