Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, poses with a portrait of her husband as she receives the 2015 Sakharov Prize on his behalf during a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
RIYADH, March 11 (Reuters) – Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was released from prison on Friday after spending 10 years behind bars, his wife said, but rights groups said he is still banned from travel for another 10 years.
Badawi, who created and managed an online forum, was arrested in 2012, charged for "insulting Islam" and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He received 50 lashes in 2015.
His public flogging caused an international outcry and prompted strong criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, including its restrictive laws on political and religious expression.
"After 10 years in prison #Raifisfree," tweeted his wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada, where she and their three children were granted political asylum.
Amnesty International and Saudi Arabian human rights group ALQST said Badawi is still facing 10 years of travel ban.
"Raif Badawi is still blocked in Saudi Arabia, as he is banned from leaving the country for the next 10 years. He is also banned from using any social media for the next 10 years, which gravely limits his ability to express himself," Amnesty International said in a statement.
The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"After almost a decade in prison, Canada is relieved to hear news that Raif Badawi has been released. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones," Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Twitter
Badawi set up the "Free Saudi Liberals" website where he criticized the Saudi clergy and called for changes in the way religion is practiced in Saudi Arabia.
He was also fined 1 million riyals ($266,567). Prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as too lenient.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has taken a tough stance over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, which came under intense scrutiny after the October 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.
In a rare public criticism, the United States urged the kingdom on Tuesday to review cases of "prisoners of conscience" and lift travel bans and other restrictions imposed on women's rights activists previously released from jail. read more
Badawi's sister, Samar Badawi, was detained in July 2018, along with more than a dozen other activists, on suspicion of harming Saudi interests. She was released last year. read more
($1 = 3.7514 riyals)
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