BEIRUT — The authorities in Saudi Arabia on Friday began the public flogging of a blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 blows, 10 years in prison and a large fine for starting a website that featured content critical of the country’s religious establishment, the rights group Amnesty International reported.
The floggings are to be administered with a cane over a period of months.
The blogger, Raif Badawi, was arrested after starting a website, “Free Saudi Liberals,” and was convicted of charges that included cybercrime and parental disobedience.
The case has drawn attention to the strict limits on freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States, and prompted unusually direct criticism from the U.S. government. Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, called on Saudi Arabia to cancel the flogging and “review Badawi’s case and sentence.”
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Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, has used its courts in the past to punish dissidents or those who question the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. Often, these actions face no public rebuke from the United States, which considers Saudi Arabia an important ally in the fight against terrorism.
Besides being the world’s largest oil exporter, the kingdom is one of five Arab countries that have joined a U.S.-led air campaign against the jihadis of the Islamic State group.
Badawi was arrested in 2012 and prosecuted in a criminal court for offenses that included cybercrime and disobeying his father, who has denounced his son in the news media.
Last year, Badawi received his final sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of more than $250,000 and 1,000 blows with the cane. Amnesty said he would receive 50 lashes once a week for 20 weeks.
An unidentified witness cited by Amnesty said Badawi was taken from a bus and flogged 50 times in a public square outside of a mosque in the port city of Jiddah after Friday prayers. About 15 minutes later, he was put back on the bus and taken away.