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Saudi Supreme Court Upholds Blogger's Prison And Lashing Sentence


Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court today upheld a controversial verdict against a liberal blog blogger who had been found guilty of insulting Islam. His sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes has drawn international condemnation. NPR's Deborah Amos is in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh and joins us now. Deb, tell us about the court's ruling and what it means for the blogger, Raif Badawi.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, what's been interesting today is that we don't really know the official court ruling. It was leaked by one newspaper confirmed by his family. We have not seen the specifics that the court decided. We know generally that it upheld the sentence, which is 10 years, as you said, a hefty fine and the lashing. But there's speculation here that they will drop the lashing - that that is the thing that caused an international storm - and stick with the 10-year sentence. But we have to watch what happens.

RATH: And what has the reaction been within Saudi Arabia to this case?

AMOS: You know, reaction here happens on Twitter. It's kind of the unofficial parliament of Saudi Arabia. So there's been lots of tweets about it today - but simply the facts ma'am, just the facts. I think everybody's waiting to see the official statement of the court, which none of us have seen.

RATH: And is there any chance that this ruling could be overturned?

AMOS: There's only one way now, and that is from the king. This is the high court. When the case came before the lower court and they decided on this very long sentence and the lashing, it was King Abdullah who said you have to put it back through the legal process. He died and there is a new king. So this is all happening under his watch. He could pardon the blogger. But it is very likely that he will still go to jail for essentially an issue over free speech.

He was running a website that was a discussion about religion. And he was charged with insulting Islam. And there are conservatives here who think he should go to jail for 10 years. And also, by the way, when he gets out of jail, he can't leave the country for an additional 10 years.

RATH: Deb, could you put this in a little bit of context for us? You know, is this a sign that things may be changing in the kingdom, you know, with a new government? Or is the reaction a sign that things are pretty much the way they've been?

AMOS: I think the Saudi's were stunned by the international outrage over the lashings. Every Western ambassador here in the capital privately said to them this is a terrible decision. This will make you look awful in the court of public opinion. The Saudi's complain you cannot interfere in our internal determinations. But they certainly took note of the huge international outcry over a blogger who simply was debating religion online.

RATH: NPR's Deborah Amos in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Deb, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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