Saudi blogger Badawi, a fighter for free speech

Saudi blogger Raef Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine for "insulting Islam" (AFP Photo/) (Family Album/AFP/File)

Dubai (AFP) - Saudi Arabian blogger Raef Badawi, who could face another round of flogging on Friday for "insulting Islam", is a fighter for free speech whose health is worsening, his wife says.

His sentence of 1,000 lashes has drawn worldwide outrage and been dismissed as "cruel and inhuman" by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

The first 50 lashes of his sentence were carried out in public on January 9.

Badawi, born on January 13, 1984, is the father of two girls aged 11 and seven with his wife Ensaf Haidar, his teenage sweetheart.

They married in 2001 and also have a 10-year-old son.

"Raef is very, very respectful. A very tender father. He is an amazing man," Haidar told AFP from Quebec, Canada, where she and the children have sought asylum.

The clean-shaven 31-year-old Badawi, who loves to read, studied economics and ran an English-language and computer learning institute, his wife said.

But he found his calling as a writer, focusing on free speech.

"He wanted dialogue among people. He wanted free speech and rights for women and all human beings. This is what always motivated him" and is why he created the Saudi Liberal Network, Haidar said.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the Internet site which Badawi co-founded as "an online discussion network whose aim is to encourage political, religious and social debates in Saudi Arabia".

RSF last year named Badawi one of three winners of its press freedom prize.

- 'Day of liberalism' -

He was in jail at the time, serving a 10-year sentence following his June, 2012 arrest under cybercrime provisions.

A judge ordered the website shut down after it criticised Saudi Arabia's notorious religious police.

Like most Saudis, Badawi is a Sunni Muslim, but his network had announced a "day of liberalism" and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in the kingdom.

In 2013, a court in the Red Sea city of Jeddah sentenced him to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for insulting Islam and setting up the liberal network.

An appeals court overturned the original verdict, sending Badawi's case back for retrial when his sentence was increased to 10 years and 1,000 lashes.

Haidar said her husband was in good health before entering prison but he now has very high blood pressure.

When the first 50 lashes were carried out in Jeddah, Badawi did not make any sound or cry out in pain, witnesses said.

"I do not know how he's coping with it. I never imagined he would be flogged," Haidar said.

"It's more of an insulting act. Against humanity, and brutal. It's ugly... it's terror."

Two further flogging sessions were postponed on medical grounds, but another could take place on Friday.

Rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday Badawi could suffer "debilitating long-term physical and mental damage" from continued flogging, which violates international law.

"Raef Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, whose only 'crime' was to set up a website for public discussion," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director.