Raif Badawi, who runs a blog on human rights and social change, was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as 1000 lashes. He has began his flogging sentence which is portioned at 50 lashes every Friday. His crime is that his blog supposedly insults religious figures and the regime in Saudi Arabia. Raif has always denied these charges.
As the 31-year-old father of three received his first 50 lashes today, his wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives almost 6,000 miles away in Quebec, says it is too much to bear. She has accused the government of killing her husband week by week - and spoke of her agony at ‘watching him die one lash at a time.’
The first 50 of the lashes were inflicted in front of hundreds in the main square in Jeddah last week - and the same is due to happen again today, and for the next 18 weeks, until all 1,000 have been completed. It is believed Raif will need hospital attention after each flogging; it has been suggested his body will not be able to sustain the assault over the coming weeks.
Speaking to the MailOnline, she said:
‘Saudi Arabia is endangering his health and life – if they go through with the whole 1,000 lashes, they are killing him more every week. It is a criminal act.’
Ensaf and the couple's three children, Najwa, 11, Terad, 10, and Miriam, seven, have been living in a small town in Canada since November 2011.
They fled Saudi Arabia when Raif was arrested, spending two years living in Lebanon before being granted refugee status. It means - although they are safe - none of them have seen Raif for more than four years and, since he was moved to a new prison two-and-a-half weeks ago, no one has spoken to him either.
However, Ensaf, 35, did have friends in the square last Friday - including Raif's sister. Ensaf said.
'She unfortunately witnessed the flogging. She was there to try and support her brother. He was very strong - he was silent during the flogging.'
But the advent of technology means Ensaf has also been able to see what happened to her husband. Shocking footage of Raif being whipped in the square is available online, filmed secretly. Just as those present reported, Raif stands strong, and quietly, while two guards dole out the punishment, and the crowds jeer.
Ensaf is still shocked it has come to this: she knew her husband wrote a blog called Free Saudi Liberals, but never thought it would draw the attentions of the authorities like it did.
‘I was surprised, because I never thought it would go this far. What he is has been accused of is not true. He did not insult the religion and Islam or any member of the government. The blog was only about social change and human rights. He did not do anything wrong - he is a prisoner of conscience.’
He was arrested in June 2012 - although it had been expected for a while, as the government had blocked his bank accounts and banned him from leaving the country in 2009.
At first, he was accused of apostasy - or renouncing Islam, a charge which, if found guilty, would have meant beheading. But it was thrown out by Saudi Arabia's high court, and Raif was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes after being found guilty by an anti-terrorism court of 'undermining the regime and officials,' ''inciting public opinion' and 'insulting the judiciary'.
It was upped to 10 years and 1,000 lashes after he appealed the sentence.