Amnesty says Saudis have declined to flog blogger Badawi for 3rd week amid global criticism

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Authorities in Saudi Arabia delayed the planned flogging of a blogger convicted of insulting Islam for a third straight week Friday in the face of growing international pressure against the punishment, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Raif Badawi underwent the first of what were supposed to be 20 weekly flogging sessions of 50 lashes each on Jan. 9 in the Red Sea city of Jiddah. Two subsequent planned floggings were postponed after doctors in the kingdom examined the 31-year-old and determined he should not face the punishment as scheduled.

Amnesty spokeswoman Sara Hashash told The Associated Press that the London-based rights group had been informed that Friday's planned flogging also did not happen, though it was unclear why. Badawi was not medically examined this week as happened previously, she said.

Had it gone ahead, the flogging would have been Badawi's first since Saudi Arabia's new monarch, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, ascended to the throne following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.

Amnesty has followed Badawi's case closely and is campaigning for his release. Saudi authorities have faced many international appeals to rescind the punishment, including from the U.S. State Department and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

President Barack Obama met with King Salman earlier this week. He raised the issue of human rights broadly but did not specifically discuss Badawi's case.

Badawi was arrested in 2012 after writing articles critical of Saudi Arabia's clerics on a liberal blog he created. He was found guilty of breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures through the site. His blog since has been shut down.

Badawi was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, but an appeals judge stiffened the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was also fined 1 million Saudi riyals, or roughly $266,000.

Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, and three children now live in Canada.

She joined lawmakers in Ottawa on Thursday in urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene personally on her husband's behalf. She said his health was deteriorating and it was "iimpossible for a human being to be able to withstand 50 lashes weekly."


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