Saudi blogger earns flogging reprieve at least until next week

Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal on January 13, 2015. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says the prime minister should speak out in the case of a blogger in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to a brutal flogging. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL - Saudi blogger Raif Badawi earned a reprieve from his scheduled flogging on Friday after it was postponed because the wounds from his first 50 lashes hadn't sufficiently healed.

Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks for a blog criticizing Saudi Arabia's clerics.

The first 50 blows were delivered last week.

"We know that at the time of the first flogging session, he saw a doctor beforehand,'' Amnesty International Canada spokeswoman Mireille Elchacar told The Canadian Press.

''It may seem strange and, indeed it is, but it was to ensure he was in good enough physical shape to receive the lashes."

Amnesty said it spoke earlier this week with Badawi, who told the organization he would be unable to withstand another 50 lashes.

A medical checkup revealed his wounds were still raw and a doctor suggested the second round of flogging be postponed until next week, Amnesty said.

"We obviously could have expected he wouldn't recover in a week from 50 blows from a stick and a whip, that's obvious," said Elchacar, adding that Saudi authorities confirmed Badawi's next flogging was pushed back to next week.

Badawi is not a Canadian citizen but his wife fled Saudi Arabia in 2012 with their son and two daughters before settling in Sherbrooke, Que., in 2013.

At a protest vigil outside Quebec's legislature Friday, Parti Quebecois member Agnes Maltais called Badawi's treatment "inhumane" and urged the provincial and federal governments to intervene on the blogger's behalf.

"One thousand lashes puts his life in danger,'' Maltais said. ''Here at home, the idea of using physical violence to punish someone is an unacceptable concept."

Luc Fortin, the Liberal member for Sherbrooke, where Badawi's family resides, also expressed concern over his fate.

"I'm here to express solidarity with Mr. Badawi, with his family, too,'' he said. ''I don't think we should forget them. They are living through anxious moments, difficult moments, in Sherbrooke. I am very supportive of their fight and I think we must maintain pressure."

Vigils in support of Badawi have been held in several cities across Quebec and in about 20 countries worldwide.

"The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous,'' Said Boumedouha, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

''Flogging should not be carried out under any circumstances."

The postponement came as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speak out in Badawi's case.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said this week Canada has expressed its opposition to the punishment to Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Ottawa.

Mulcair's letter to Harper urged the prime minister to step in and call for Badawi's immediate release.

"Canada must make every effort to guarantee his release, allow him to return home to his family, and to prevent him from being subjected to this horrible punishment simply for having expressed his opinion."

— With files from Martin Ouellet in Quebec City and Jillian Kestler-D'Amours in Montreal

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