U.S. Senators Send Letter to Saudi King to Free Blogger, End 'Barbaric' Lashings

Lawmakers warn of damage to Saudi-American ties if Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashings for insulting Islam, isn't freed, repression of political dissidents continues.

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A screenshot of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

Eight senior U.S. senators have severely criticized Saudi Arabia for sentencing a blogger to ten years and 1,000 lashes for allegedly insulting Islam in a letter to King Abdullah. 

In the missive, the senators called public floggings a “barbaric punishment” and warned that further repression of political dissidents is liable to endanger Saudi-U.S. ties, according to an Al Jazeera report.

“We value the important partnership between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on many critical issues,” the senators said. “However, any further violence or criminal proceedings against Saudi citizens exercising nonviolent freedoms of speech and religion will unfortunately be a source of continued divergence between our countries.”

The letter's signatories were Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Marco Rubio, R-Flor.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Cali; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, Al Jazeera said. 

The blogger, Raif Badawi, was flogged 50 times last week but a second round of lashings due on Friday was postponed for what were reportedly medical reasons. The sentence was widely criticized by Western governments.

The case has since been referred to the Supreme Court by the King’s office, the BBC reported on Friday.

Political stakes over Badawi's case have been heightened by the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper and its subsequent publication of more cartoons featuring Islam's Prophet Mohammed.

In a brief newsbreak without quotes, the BBC said Badawi's wife had told it the decision had given the blogger hope that the authorities want to end his punishment.