Riyadh: A Saudi court on Monday upheld a 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes against Raef Badawi, founder of a liberal human rights group, for insulting Islam, an activist said.
He had been convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police “which we all do” in Saudi Arabia, the rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari, told AFP.
Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, has been behind bars since June 2012.
The court had also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).
Badawi was first sentenced on May 7 amid criticism from rights watchdogs, including Amnesty International.
“We were very surprised” by the appeals court ruling, Al Shamari said.
“The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee,” she added.
Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “day of liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia.
The lawsuit against him was filed by clerics.
Badawi was sentenced in July 2013 to more than seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam.
But an appeals court overturned that ruling, sending the case back for retrial when he received a harsher sentence.
“Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence,” Al Shamari said.
“Saudi Arabia is putting together all its efforts to fight terrorism... and finally waking up to the mistakes it has created with its own hands” by following a strict interpretation of Islamic law, she added.
King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz on Friday underscored the threat posed by militants unless there is “rapid” action against them.
Scores of people are also on trial in the kingdom for adopting an “extremist ideology”, and Saudi Arabia has released a “terror” list naming several Shiite and Sunni groups.
Saudi authorities have long feared a blowback from militant groups, particularly after a spate of Al-Qaida attacks in the kingdom from 2003 to 2006.