A bipartisan group of top U.S. senators is demanding that Saudi Arabia, a key American ally, stop the "barbaric" whipping of a dissident sentenced to 1,000 lashes for criticizing Islamic religious leaders.
The eight Republicans and Democrats wrote Saudi King Abdullah to warn that "further violence" against blogger Raif Badawi will "unfortunately be a source of continued divergence between our two countries," Fox News reported
Badawi received 50 lashes on Jan. 9 in the first of 20 weekly sets of public whippings. Saudi authorities rescheduled a second round of beatings scheduled Friday after a doctor examined Badawi and found that the wounds from the first whippings had not healed. He was also sentenced to five years in prison.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, imposes floggings and amputations for a variety of crimes and beheading for offenses such as murder, rape, blasphemy, adultery and witchcraft.
The desert kingdom is regularly criticized by human rights groups, but the flogging of the 31-year-old father of three has sparked broader opposition in the West. The protests spread to the Netherlands last week where demonstrators marched outside the Saudi Embassy
in the Hague, demanding Badawi's release. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced the punishment as "cruel and inhumane."
In Washington, the Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Marco Rubio of Florida joined Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Ron Wyden of Oregon in denouncing the Saudi punishment. Boxer, Shaheen and Rubio, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.
"At a time that the world is wrestling with and mourning violence committed in the name of religious intolerance, such an example of state-sanctioned violence against peaceful religious dialogue is highly troubling and helps legitimize the extremist view that violence is a justified response to the free exercise of speech and religion," they wrote in their Jan. 16 letter.
Leahy took to the Senate floor
last week to accuse Saudi Arabia of hypocrisy for sending its ambassador to France to a massive protests against the Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris, while Saudi authorities are punishing Bawadi.
Leahy also criticized the Saudi government for sentencing prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair to 10 years in prison. He had been convicted of insulting the Saudi government.
"I urge the Saudi government to release Mr. Abu al-Khair and Mr. Badawi and dismiss the spurious charges against them. This kind of repression and barbarity have no place in the 21st Century," Leahy said.
The State Department appeared to send mixed signals over Badawi's punishment.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the sentence "inhumane," but another spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said there is little the Obama administration can do.
"I don't think we're in the business of demanding things," she told reporters.
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