Katrina Swett And Petitioners Offer To Take Saudi Man's Lashes

Feb 24, 2015

Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

A New Hampshire woman, along with hundreds more, is offering to receive a portion of the 1,000 lashes reserved for Raif Badawi. Badawi is a Saudi blogger sentenced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the charge of insulting Islam.

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett is the wife of former New Hampshire congressman, Dick Swett. She’s presently serving as chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and as President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

She joined NHPR’s Rick Ganley to talk about her pledge.

You and six others signed a letter to the Saudi Embassy offering to take one hundred lashes each. By then Raif Badawi had already received 50 lashes and was scheduled for another 50 soon after. But his sentence has been postponed ostensibly for health reasons. Do you feel this letter has stayed the Saudi government’s hand in this case?

We do believe that our letter and the attention that it has elicited has played a role in the fact that in the five weeks since Raif was first lashed in this outrageous and brutal sentence he received, he has not been lashed again. There have been a number of initiatives but we are gratified to think that our effort has been part of sparing this brave and innocent man more brutal beatings.

How did it feel volunteering yourself for a level of torture most of us would have difficulty even imagining?

I have to say that for each of us who were the original signatories of the letter, we understood very clearly that the chances of us ever having to endure this punishment were tremendously remote.  But we felt strongly that we should not sign the letter unless we were willing to step up and fulfil our pledge. We subsequently posted a petition on Change.org. It’s a little bit different from your ‘slacktivist’ petition. What made ours a little different is we actually asked people not to sign it unless they too felt that they were prepared to follow through, recognizing that the possibility and the likelihood was remote.

I don’t think anyone expects the Saudi government to take you up on this offer. So, what are you hoping to accomplish with this symbolic gesture?

It is a symbolic gesture but also awakens in anybody who signs a petition or letter like that, a deeper awareness of just what it means to be in the hands of brutal, autocratic governments that can not only trample on your rights but can physically abuse you, to some degree, at will.

At last count, more than 1,000 regular citizens have signed a petition on Change.org to do what you had offered to do and take some of Badawi’s lashes on his behalf. What’s next?

We will be sending a follow-up letter to the Saudi government, drawing their attention to the fact that now from every corner of the world, from every continent and from dozens of countries, people have gone online to this petition to say ‘we will stand with Raif Badawi. We don’t want to see him suffer this unjust punishment.’ And we really are making the point to them, that no matter how many lashes you sentence, there will be people standing in solidarity with them worldwide, saying ‘punish us too, if that’s the way you’re going to behave.’

What response have you gotten from the Saudis?

We have not gotten a response from the Saudis other than the fact that this man has not been lashed again. We have also heard through a number of back channels that we have, that they are looking for an off-ramp. That they are looking for a way to exit from this.