The Steep Price of Freedom of Expression



Saudi Arabia has witnessed the rise of liberal activists over the last few years. The demand of civilians for democratic reform within an Islamic framework received prominent attention in media concerning human rights when activists have been rigidly controlled by the religious establishment and faced harsh punishments for peacefully expressing their ideas.

“Society needs to open its collective mind to all ideas and ideologies. It needs to give its people the chance to listen to the opinions of others, and then examine them critically instead of rejecting them prematurely. Such a creative dialogue based on positive critical thinking can enhance and develop ideas.” –Voiced Raif Badawi.

In 2012 the liberal Saudi Activist Raif Badawi was arrested on charges of insulting Islam through electronic channels, including apostasy and brought to court. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. In 2014 the court increased his punishment to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. His wife Ensaf Haider; author of Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom, took refuge in Canada along with their children.

Unfortunately, the harsh punishment does not only fall on the convicted liberals but those who defend them are also silenced and punished under a cyber-crime law in addition to the recently released law of anti-terrorism, which was released to protect Saudi citizens from radicalization and control them from joining Islamists violent groups such as Daesh.

This law has also been exploited to serve in silencing those who engage in dissent. Howbeit, there is no written code or guideline for free thinkers and human rights defenders to follow in order to avoid being prosecuted. Hence, they are criminalized on the basis of a broad range of offenses.

Amongst those who were punished is the prominent human rights activist, Waleed Abulkhair (Raif Badawi’s lawyer) who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15-year travel ban and a fine of 200 000 Saudi Riyals. He was convicted of breaking allegiance to the ruler, insulting the judiciary and harming the state by communicating with international organizations.

While the Saudi jurisprudence of free speech remains an impediment to human rights activists, the involvement from the rest of the world to defend human rights are vastly evident. A member of a non-governmental organization named Center for Inquiry sought to defend Raif Badawi at the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. She was repeatedly interrupted by the representative of Saudi Arabia, who demanded that she would be silenced. The permission to speak was granted by votes from U.S., Ireland, Canada, and France. Below is part of the report:

“We call on Saudi Arabia, as a newly elected member of this council,

to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for blasphemy, insulting Islam, or apostasy.

As an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to (uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and fully cooperate with the Council) if it is to retain any credibility as a member, we urge it to reform its laws”

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was made aware of the possible consequences of discussing topics that are deemed sensitive such as religion and politics. So I chose to turn a blind eye and expressed my feelings towards cultural and Islamic progression through designing contemporary Islamic furniture instead.

Being a free thinker and a strong believer in human rights, I felt confined by a law that went against my human nature. In 2014 I made the decision to reside in the UK where I was born. Living in the UK allowed me to practice my faith the way I desire without being concerned for my safety. Safeguarded by the active presence of Human Rights Organizations.

Although I am unable to measure the risk of writing this article, I feel a sense of duty towards citizens of the country I grew up in. My personal stance against inhumane punishment for any kind of peaceful practice is to add my voice to those who seek defend the people who sacrificed their lives paving the way for freedom of expression, social stability, economic growth and intellectual development. It is time for our ideas to flourish in dignity and peace.

The call for compassion, acceptance, and tolerance are denoted in several verses of the Quran:

 “He who has killed an innocent soul is as if he has killed all of the humanity. And he who saves an innocent soul is as if he saved all of the humanity”

 “You have your faith and I have my faith and you are free to practice your faith and I’m free to practice mine.”

These verses were mentioned in an argument by Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir when he was invited to Germany to comment on Daesh (ISIS) being Islamic.

On that note, I would kindly address the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia to act upon the compassion and mercy mentioned in the book we both hold sacred and take an active role in saving innocent souls such as Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair and call for releasing them from such harsh punishments.


To the reader:

Should your conscience nullify your fear, please sign the petitions linked below, your voice can make a difference.


Raif Badawi:


Waleed Abulkhair:


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