Saudi Arabia has confirmed a 10-year travel ban for freed blogger and activist Raif Badawi, who has become a symbol of freedom of expression around the world.
Badawi, now 38, who was arrested and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam”, was released on Friday.
An interior ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency on Saturday: “The sentence handed down to Raif was 10 years in prison followed by a travel ban for the same length of time. The court ruling holds up and is final.”
The official added, “He cannot leave the kingdom for another 10 years unless a [royal] pardon is issued.”
At the end of 2014, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks.
His first flogging in the kingdom’s Jeddah square was described by the United Nations as “cruel and inhuman”. After the outcry, he was not lashed again.
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.
Canada’s Quebec province has paved the way for Badawi to take shelter in the country if he chooses by placing him on a priority list of potential immigrants for humanitarian reasons.
“Finally!,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault tweeted on Friday about his release, adding: “I keep thinking about the children who will finally see their father!”
Known for his writings in support of freedom of expression, the blogger won the 2014 Reporters Without Borders prize in the net-citizen category.
He was also awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom by the European Parliament in 2015.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has taken a tough stance over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which came under intense scrutiny after the October 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
In rare public criticism, the United States urged the kingdom on March 8 to review cases of “prisoners of conscience” and lift travel bans and other restrictions imposed on women’s rights activists previously released from jail.