A liberal Saudi blogger who was accused of insulting Islam has been flogged in public, despite denunciations of the practice by the United States and rights groups.
Witnesses say Raif Badawi received 50 lashes after Friday prayers as worshippers looked on near a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
Badawi, co-founder of a web site called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after being charged with offenses including insulting Islam. He is expected to have 20 weekly sessions of 50 whippings each until his punishment is complete.
He was also ordered to pay a fine of $266,000.
The U.S. State Department asked Saudi authorities to cancel the sentence of 1,000 lashes. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the punishment "brutal" and "inhumane," and she urged Saudi officials to review Badawi's case and punishment.
"We are greatly concerned by reports that human rights activist Raif Badawi will start facing the inhumane punishment of 1,000 lashes, in addition to serving a 10-year sentence in prison for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and religion. The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice," said Psaki.
Amnesty International said flogging "violates the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment in international law."