Center for Inquiry to Obama: Tell Saudis to Free Raif Badawi

For Immediate Release: January 26, 2015
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785

The Center for Inquiry called upon President Obama to press for the freedom of Raif Badawi and other imprisoned dissidents when the president meets with new Saudi King Salman on Tuesday. CFI, an organization that advocates for science, reason, and secularism, has been working to free Badawi since his arrest in 2012. 

“The president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has a significant opportunity to stand up for fundamental human rights when he meets with King Salman face to face,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry and author of The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do. “We ask that he seize this chance to push our ally in war to be an ally in peace, to end its medieval and inhuman punishment of Raif Badawi, as well as freeing all those it has imprisoned and persecuted for exercising their right to free expression.”

Badawi, an activist convicted of “insulting Islam” for running a liberal discussion website, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes, 50 of which have already been inflicted, injuring him to the point of being medically unable to withstand the next round of floggings. The co-founder of his website, Souad Al-Shammary, and his attorney Waleed Abulkhair, are among those who have also been jailed and charged with offenses related to blasphemy and dissent.

“President Obama recently hailed the late King Abdullah as a reformer of sorts, but the people of Saudi Arabia still live under a brutally repressive theocracy, where women are subjugated, and dissent of any kind is met with incarceration and violence,” added Lindsay. “We recognize that the Saudis are valued allies against some forms of Islamic extremism. However, religious dogmatism does not placate extremists; rather, it breeds them. The president should not waste this opportunity to champion the fundamental freedoms he has spoken of so eloquently in the past, and push the Saudis to free these dissidents who have done nothing more than speak their minds, and return them to their families.” 

In 2012 President Obama defended the right to blasphemy and religious criticism in an address to the United Nations, saying, “Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. … Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.”

“Saudi Arabia is a member of the United Nations as well as the UN Human Rights Council,” noted Michael De Dora, CFI’s United Nations representative. “That means they have a responsibility to promote and protect basic human rights including freedoms of religion, belief, and expression. King Salman and his new appointees should work to ensure the government makes significant moves toward protecting these rights for all.”

CFI has repeatedly spoken out on Badawi’s behalf at the UN Human Rights Council, and on one such occasion this past July, the Saudi delegation tried unsuccessfully to shout down CFI’s spokesperson (video here: In addition, CFI has also held protests, waged publicity campaigns, and worked alongside diplomatic allies to free Raif Badawi. Learn more about CFI’s efforts to fight blasphemy laws and other forms of religious persecution at the Campaign for the Free Expression. (

# # #

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at