Religious Freedom Advocates Offer To Take Lashes For Imprisoned Saudi Blogger

Seven religious freedom advocates have offered to personally receive 100 lashes each in the place of Raif Badawi, a liberal Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for "insulting Islam through electronic channels."

Badawi, who has said he identifies as Muslim, was arrested in 2012 for promoting secular government on his blog site, Saudi Free Liberals Forum.

The blogger received the first of 20 weekly sets of 50 lashes on Friday while activists and politicians around the world descried the government's "barbaric" choice of punishment.

Seven members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), including Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett and Vice Chair Dr. Robert P. George sent a letter to the Saudi Ambassador to the United States on Tuesday urging the kingdom to overturn Badawi's sentence. If not, the signers state, they will each take 100 lashes in the blogger's place.

"Raif Badawi is being made to suffer for exercising basic human rights to religious liberty and freedom of expression and for standing up for these rights for others in the Saudi Kingdom and beyond," George, also a professor at Princeton University, told The Huffington Post by email.

The signers did not release the letter as part of their official capacities with USCIRF, George noted.

The professor added that the group includes Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals, Christians, Jews, and one Muslim, highlighting the resonance of Badawi's case for so many around the globe.

"Badawi’s case is important," George said, "because he is a human being, a precious member of the human family, who is being made to suffer unjustly."

Read the full letter below:

Your Excellency:

We were pleased to see officials representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia participating in the recent March in Paris to protest the brutal murders committed in the name of Islam at the Hyper Cacher market and the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The March was a demonstration in support of human rights and civil liberties, including the liberty to criticize religion, particular religions, schools of thought within religions, and religious figures and leaders. The Saudi presence was an important statement from the Kingdom about basic rights and liberties enshrined in international covenants and agreements to which the Kingdom has, to its credit, subscribed.

And yet, we note with sorrow that in the Kingdom itself Raif Badawi stands condemned under rules that flagrantly violate these human rights and civil liberties and is being subjected to an unspeakably cruel punishment of 1000 lashes. We call on the government of the Kingdom to put a halt to this grave injustice. We are informed that Mr. Badawi has already endured 50 lashes and will soon be made to endure 50 more. We are deeply alarmed by the prospect of his continued and grave suffering.

Compassion, a virtue honored in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as “suffering with another.” We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims, if need be. We therefore make the following request. If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi’s unjust punishment.