Nobel laureates write to KAUST over Saudi flogging case

Academics in Saudi Arabia have been urged in an open letter signed by 18 Nobel Prize winners to condemn the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi

January 20, 2015

Source: A. T. Service

In the letter passed to The Independent, the Nobel laureates call on their Saudi peers to be “heard arguing for the freedom to dissent” by standing up for Mr Badawi, whose case has highlighted the restrictions on freedom speech in the oil-rich state.

Mr Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, which will be administered at a rate of 50 a week, in May 2014 for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics.

His case – which the letter says has “sent a shock round the world” - was referred to Saudi’s supreme court last week shortly after his second round of flogging was delayed on medical grounds.

Among the Nobel laureates to sign the open letter are the South African novelist JM Coetzee, Canadian-born chemist Rudolph Marcus and English-born chemist Sir Richard Roberts.

Another signatory Sir John Sulston, the British biologist awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2002, told The Independent that Mr Badawi’s case had important implications for the “importance of free speech in particular”.

“This guy, as far as one understands, has been an entirely peaceful blogger proposing things which are at odds with current Saudi Arabian methods – but nevertheless absolutely consonant with academic freedoms,” he said.

The letter is addressed to Jean-Lou Chameau, president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which is named after the King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

“We are confident that influential voices in KAUST will be heard arguing for the freedom to dissent, without which no institution of higher learning can be viable,” says the letter, which some believe is a warning that the university will be internationally shunned by global scholars unless it does more to further freedom of speech.

The threat to marginalise KAUST could be a blow to its international ambitions, which has seen billions invested in the project since its inauguration five years ago.

The Prince of Wales, who has close connections with the Saudi royal family, has also been urged to speak out against Mr Badawi’s treatment.

“Charles has been ready and willing to speak out on human rights abuses in Iraq, yet remains silent when those abuses are perpetrated by royal friends,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of anti-monarchy group Republic.

“On this occasion silence is not an option for Charles - not least because he is closely associated with the perpetrators of this grotesque punishment,” he added.

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