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Saudi Supreme Court upholds verdict against liberal blogger flogged for insulting Islam

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court upheld an internationally condemned verdict against a liberal blogger who was publicly flogged after being found guilty of insulting Islam, state-linked news websites reported Sunday.

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the sentence of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old father of three who was lashed in January in a public square, is final and cannot be overturned without a royal pardon.

Badawi, imprisoned since 2012, initially was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures through a blog he created.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 file photo, members of the Austrian Greens protest against the punishment for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in front of the KAICIID in Vienna, Austria. Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court upheld a verdict against a liberal blogger who was flogged in January after being found guilty of insulting Islam and breaking technology laws, state-linked news websites reported Sunday, June 7. (AP Photo/Hans Punz, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 file photo, members of the Austrian Greens protest against the punishment for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in front of the KAICIID in Vienna, Austria. Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court upheld a verdict against a liberal blogger who was flogged in January after being found guilty of insulting Islam and breaking technology laws, state-linked news websites reported Sunday, June 7. (AP Photo/Hans Punz, File)

After an appeal, a criminal court in Jiddah last year stiffened the punishment to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He also was banned from traveling abroad for 10 years after his prison term and fined $266,000.

In January, security officials flogged Badawi outside a mosque in Jiddah. Saudi rights activists said it was meant as a warning to others who think to criticize the religious establishment, of which the ruling family derives much of its authority.

Subsequent floggings were halted as the Supreme Court reviewed the case. A person close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that because Badawi's flogging has been halted since January, the Supreme Court ruling may exclude lashings. It was not immediately possible to clarify the details of the judges' ruling.

The lashes had been scheduled to be administered over 20 weekly sessions, with 50 lashes each week, according to the London-based rights group Amnesty International. The rights group has launched a global campaign to call for Badawi's release and said Sunday that he remains at risk of being flogged.

Saudi Arabia's Western allies, including Washington, have called on authorities to rescind the punishment. The kingdom maintains its judiciary is independent and has rejected international pressure as interference in the country's internal affairs.

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