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Saudi blogger Badawi released from prison, still under travel ban

Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, poses with a portrait of her husband as she receives the 2015 Sakharov Prize on his behalf during a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/ Vincent Kessler

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RIYADH, March 11 (Reuters) – Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was released from prison on Friday after spending 10 years behind bars, his wife said, but rights groups said he was still banned from traveling for another 10 years.

Badawi, who created and ran an online forum, was arrested in 2012, charged with “insulting Islam” and then sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He received 50 lashes in 2015.

His public flogging caused an international outcry and sparked strong criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including its restrictive laws on political and religious expression.

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“After 10 years in prison #Raifisfree,” tweeted his wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada, where she and their three children have been granted political asylum.

Amnesty International and Saudi human rights group ALQST said Badawi still faces a 10-year travel ban.

“Raif Badawi is still stranded in Saudi Arabia, as he is banned from leaving the country for the next 10 years. He is also banned from using social media for the next 10 years, which severely limits his ability to s ‘express,’ Amnesty International said in a statement.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“After almost a decade in prison, Canada is relieved to learn that Raif Badawi has been released. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Twitter.

Badawi created the “Free Saudi Liberals” website where he criticized the Saudi clergy and called for changes in the way religion is practiced in Saudi Arabia.

He was also fined 1 million riyals ($266,567). Prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as being too lenient.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has taken a tough stance on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which came under intense scrutiny after the October 2018 murder of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

In a rare public criticism, the United States on Tuesday urged the kingdom to review “prisoners of conscience” cases and lift travel bans and other restrictions on women’s rights activists previously released from prison. Read more

Badawi’s sister, Samar Badawi, was arrested in July 2018, along with more than a dozen other activists, on suspicion of harming Saudi interests. She was released last year. Read more

($1 = 3.7514 riyals)

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Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh, Ismail Shakil in Bangalore and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman

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