Saudi postpones flogging of blogger for third week

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 Arabia postponed Friday for a third week in a row the flogging of a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, his wife said.

Raef Badawi "was not flogged" on Friday, Ensaf Haidar told AFP, adding that the reason was unclear.

The 30-year-old received the first 50 lashes of his sentence outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on January 9.

The next round of punishment was postponed for the following two weeks on medical grounds.

Badawi's case has already prompted worldwide outrage and criticism from the UN, US, the EU and others.

On Thursday, Haidar, who has sought asylum with their three children in Canada, voiced concerns about the health of her husband, who has been suffering from hypertension since his arrest in June 2012.

"Raef's health condition is bad and it's getting worse. I am very concerned about him," Haidar told reporters and lawmakers in Canada.

"It is impossible for a human being to withstand 50 lashes every week," she said. "I do not know how he's coping with it. I never imagined he would be flogged."

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

Badawi co-founded the now-banned Saudi Liberal Network along with women's rights campaigner Suad al-Shammari, who was also accused of insulting Islam and arrested last October.

The charges against Badawi were brought after his group criticised clerics and the kingdom's notorious religious police, who have been accused of a heavy-handed enforcement of sharia Islamic law.

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".

Badawi was initially sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for insulting Islam, but an appeals court overturned the original verdict, sending his case back for retrial.

His sentence was then increased to 10 years and 1,000 lashes in a case that caused international uproar.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged ailing Saudi King Abdullah before his death to pardon Badawi, saying flogging is "cruel and inhuman" and prohibited under international human rights law.

Abdullah died last week aged around 90 and was succeeded by his half-brother Salman.

President Barack Obama was one of a host of world leaders to travel to the kingdom and pay respects to the late Abdullah. A US official said Obama did not discuss Badawi's case with Saudi officials during a four-hour visit to Riyadh.

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

"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.