Saudi crackdown linked to war on terror

By Aya Batrawy ,AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A man is given 50 lashes in a public square for ��insulting Islam�� on a liberal blog. Another is arrested for filming and uploading a woman’s public beheading. Two females are imprisoned and put on trial for writing on Twitter in support of women driving.

These cases have thrust Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights back into the spotlight, with international concern mounting over the limits of free speech in the Arab monarchy.

Human rights activists and lawyers say the cases are part of a sweeping clampdown on dissent that has intensified in Saudi Arabia since the region’s 2011 Arab Spring upheaval. They say acts that offend the country’s religious hard-liners or open up the kingdom to criticism �X like the video of the execution of a woman convicted of murdering her stepson �X have landed people in jail as a warning to others.

The case of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old father of three who was flogged this month, has attracted the most attention in recent days, particularly in the aftermath of the deadly attack in Paris against a satirical weekly that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.

He was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes and was fined US$266,000. He was scheduled for another round of 50 lashes last Friday, but the flogging was canceled to allow his wounds to heal, according to Amnesty International.

��If you say that what happened in Paris is an attack on freedom of expression, than you can say what is happening to Raif is an attack on freedom of expression,�� said Amnesty’s Saudi researcher Sevag Kechichian.

Just days after the attacks in Paris, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs took part in the huge march that was held there to support free speech and honor the victims. Two days earlier, Badawi was flogged in the Red Sea city of Jiddah.

Activists and lawyers say the kingdom’s strict application of Sharia law against dissent is part of an effort to appease the religious conservatives who are vital supporters in the country’s fight against Sunni extremists.

Badawi’s arrest and flogging were ��a gift, let’s put it that way, to the hard-liners,�� Kechichian said.