(CNN)Saudi Arabian rights activist Raif Badawi has been publicly flogged for insulting Islam despite international outcry over the sentence handed down by a court in the conservative kingdom, Amnesty International and his wife said.
The flogging Friday in Jeddah was the first
of 20 such sessions imposed by a Saudi court after Badawi's
2014 conviction. He was arrested after creating an online forum
in 2008 that his wife says was meant to encourage discussion about
"Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and
arching his back," Amnesty International quoted what it said was
eyewitness to the flogging as saying. "He was silent, but
you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.
The officer beat Raif on his back and legs, counting the lashes until
they reached 50."
The punishment may also have been captured in cell-phone video
uploaded to YouTube.
In the unverified video, a man in uniform can be seen striking a
shackled prisoner with a cane as a crowd gathers
around. Some in the crowd cried out "Allahu Akbar," or "God
is great," as the man was being flogged.
"It's a scene I cannot describe. It was horrible," she
said from Canada. "Every lash killed me."
Human rights groups deplored the flogging.
"Publicly lashing a peaceful activist merely for expressing
his ideas sends an ugly message of intolerance," Human Rights
Watch said over the weekend.
Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International's deputy director for the
Middle East, called for Badawi's immediate release.
"Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience; his only 'crime'
was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up a
website for public discussion," Boumedouha said in a statement.
U.S. officials have also called on Saudi officials to
withdraw the sentence and review Badawi's case.
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment
to CNN on the case, saying it was a legal issue, not a political one.
The flogging occurred days after Saudi Arabian officials condemned
attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has
often lampooned Islam.