MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Tomorrow in Saudi Arabia we can expect that a 31-year-old blogger will be brought from prison to a public square. There Raif Badawi will be flogged before a throng of spectators - 50 lashes. And that punishment will continue - 50 lashes every week for 20 weeks, plus 10 years in prison. Raif Badawi's crime, according to Saudi authorities - insulting Islam. He published the Saudi Free Liberals blog before he was arrested in 2012. Human rights activist Elham Manea is speaking on behalf of Badawi's family. She told us how witnesses have described last week's flogging in the port city of Jeddah.
ELHAM MANEA: He was brought to a square in front of a mosque. Seems to be thousands of people were gathering around him in a circle. Someone started to whip him. He tried to hold his hand in victory symbol. And then the guard had to put his hand down. He didn't flinch while being lashed and remained proud and defiant.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about some of what Mr. Badawi has written that got him in such trouble there in Saudi Arabia. What was he writing on his blog?
MANEA: About secularism, about what it means to have a free society, freedom of expression - when you think about it he was just stating what many countries are living. He just wanted that in Saudi Arabia.
BLOCK: When you were in touch with him, before he got arrested back in 2012, did he express fear that he would be imprisoned and ultimately punished for what he had written?
MANEA: He knew this entails risk, but he thought that reform is a necessity, and from that perspective he was sure that there will be a listening ear from the Saudi regime. Unfortunately, they seem to have disappointed him.
BLOCK: Mr. Badawi's wife has said that her husband is not a criminal, but, in her words, a victim of the thought police in Saudi Arabia. Is his case part of a broader crackdown on free speech throughout the kingdom?
MANEA: Yes, and that's very important to mention in this context because Raif's a symbol - is symbol for many thousands of other men and women who are imprisoned for doing nothing but expressing their opinions or demanding reform or demanding women's right. Now, the question is for me is, like, why is the Saudi regime so afraid of fulfilling its obligation under international human rights convention? I mean, Saudi Arabia is a member of Human Rights Council, for God's sake. The least that one expects is that they respect a minimum in terms of freedom of expression.
BLOCK: Saudi Arabia, of course, is a key U.S. ally. The state department has said it's greatly concerned about what it calls this inhumane punishment of Mr. Badawi. Do you and other human rights activists expect a strong international response? What would you be calling on other countries to do?
MANEA: That they continue this pressure and also a consideration of boycotts of some sort, but I don't think that would make any sense given the fact that Saudi Arabia has the upper hand when it comes to economic leverage - I'm talking about oil here. But the discrepancy between continuing a relationship with a kingdom who is violating human rights on a daily basis is becoming unbearable. And I think the United States has a responsibility given the fact that it's always defending human rights on an international level, that it puts pressure on its ally, Saudi Arabia, in order to uphold its own image.
BLOCK: Well, Ms. Manea, thank you very much for talking with us about this case.
MANEA: You're very welcome.
BLOCK: Human rights activist Elham Manea speaking with us from Durham, England. We were talking about the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. He's been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. Among his last blog post was this quote from Albert Camus - the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
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