Saudi Arabia: imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi to spend 33rd birthday in prison

Next Monday, 9 January, marks two years since blogger Raif Badawi was publicly flogged outside a mosque in Jeddah, his hands and feet bound, in 2015. Brutal, humiliating, and excruciatingly painful, these lashings also served another purpose – drawing worldwide attention to Badawi’s plight and provoking an outpouring of support from organisations and individuals across the globe.

In many ways this was long overdue. First arrested in June 2012, Badawi had already spent almost two and half years in detention. More than six months earlier, he had been sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for ‘founding a liberal website’ and ‘insulting Islam’. However, it was not until we were confronted with the violent reality of his sentence that people really began to pay attention.

This is something we see time and again – that harsh punishments primarily serve to highlight the grave injustice of such sentences, that seeking to silence free-thinkers can often become the best way of amplifying their voices.

Raif Badawi himself highlights this irony in the introduction to 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, a collection of blog posts published following his arrest:

I will be completely honest with you: when I wrote my first article, I couldn’t imagine it would be gather in a book in Arabic, let alone translated into a different language.

Despite his ongoing detention, Badawi’s voice has now reached countless supporters across the globe. But it is still heartbreaking to think of how rarely his wife Ensaf Haidar and their children are able to speak to him, and how little they are able to say. Next week, on 13 January, they will be celebrating yet another birthday, his 33rd, thousands of miles apart.

For several weeks following the January 2015 lashing, a team of medics pronounced that Badawi had not recovered sufficiently to be subject to any further lashes but after a while no further explanation was given. Since then there has been a resounding and ominous silence and, two years on, the threat of a further 950 lashes looms as large as it ever did.

We nevertheless remain hopeful that pressure from the international community will afford him some protection, bring him and his family some comfort, and will eventually lead to his release.


Join our vigils

English PEN has been holding regular vigils at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London since January 2015 to call for his release and for his sentence to be quashed. To mark Raif Badawi’s 33rd birthday and to show our ongoing support for him and his family we will be holding a special vigil at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, joined by colleagues from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, the Jimmy Wales Foundation, Little, Brown, Peter Tatchell Foundation, One Law for All, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Bread and Roses, and Equal Rights Now – Movement for Women’s Liberation in Iran.

Please join us and help spread the word. #FreeRaif

  • Birthday vigil for Raif Badawi
  • 1-2pm
  • Friday 13 January
  • Saudi Arabian Embassy, London

NB Activists are asked to meet at the Curzon Street entrance to the Embassy. (note: the postal address of the Embassy is 30-32 Charles Street, Mayfair, London).

Spread the word

If you’re unable to join us in person you can still show your support for Raif Badawi by sharing details of his case and calling for his freedom on social media, both in the run-up to his birthday and on 13 January himself. Please use the hashtags #FreeRaif and #HappyBirthdayRaif.

Suggested tweets:

Ahead of 13 January

Imprisoned blogger @Raif_Badawi will be spending his 33rd birthday in prison & away from his family. #FreeRaif #HappyBirthdayRaif

On 13 January

Today is imprisoned blogger @Raif_Badawi’s 33rd birthday. #HappyBirthdayRaif #FreeRaif

Take part in our ongoing photo action

English PEN and the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom are inviting individuals and organisations all over the world to show their ongoing support for Badawi and his family by sharing a photo of themselves holding a poster or message of solidarity.

We are aiming to get 1000 images to represent the 1000 lashes to which Raif has been sentenced. As well as helping to raise and maintain awareness of his case, these photos will serve as a powerful visual representation of the widespread support for Raif and his family .

Please share your photo, ideally with details of where it was taken (eg Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London, UK).

Download our #FreeRaif poster

Send us your photos

Via Twitter:

  • Please share your photo with the hashtag #FreeRaif and tag @englishpen

Via Facebook:

Via Email:

  • Please email your photos, with the subject line ‘Free Raif photo’ and details of where it was taken (eg Saudi Embassy, London, UK) to Please also send copies to the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom –

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

View all posts by Cat Lucas →

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