Middle East

Princeton professor and others offer to take 1,000 lashes for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi, a Saudi website founder and blogger. Badawi-- who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for criticizing Islam-- may now face the death penalty.

Raif Badawi, a Saudi website founder and blogger. Badawi-- who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for criticizing Islam-- may now face the death penalty.  (Courtesy of Amnesty International)

A Princeton University professor and a prominent Muslim American figure, as well as five other religious freedom advocates, are offering to take 100 lashes each for imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced by Saudi Arabia to 1,000 lashes for insulting his country's clerics.

In a letter to the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, urged the immediate release of Badawi.

The Saudi blogger was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after criticizing the country's powerful clerics on his blog. Badawi received the first of 20 weekly floggings almost two weeks ago. The second flogging, which was scheduled for last Friday, was postponed on medical grounds.

George and Jasser wrote in the letter that if Badawi is not released, they will volunteer to receive 100 lashes each. The letter included five other signatories: Mary Ann Glendon, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Daniel Mark, assistant professor of Department of Political Science at Villanova University, Hannah Rosenthal, CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Eric Schwartz dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and, Katrina Lantos Swett, president of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.

The group of seven religious freedom advocates described Badawi's sentence as a "grave injustice" in their letter and called on the government toshow mercy.

"Compassion, a virtue honored in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as 'suffering with another.' We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims, if need be," the letter reads. "We therefore make the following request. If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him."

"We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi’s unjust punishment," the group said.

Each signed the letter, dated Jan. 20 and addressed to Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the U.S.

The letter underscores the international outrage over Badawi's punishment. Badawi was arrested in 2012 after insulting the clerics on his blog. In 2013, he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence, but ordered instead to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison.

Badawi received his first 50 lashes on Jan. 9. His second flogging, which was scheduled for last Friday, was postponed after a prison doctor said his wounds had not healed and that he would not withstand another round of lashes.

"Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity," Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement last week.

"The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous. Flogging should not be carried out under any circumstances," Boumedouha said. "Flogging is prohibited under international law along with other forms of corporal punishment."

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, has appealed to the king to halt the public flogging by pardoning Badawi "and to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty."

The U.S. also made a rare diplomatic decision to publicly call on Saudi Arabia, an important U.S. ally, to rescind the sentencing, with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urging Saudi authorities to "cancel this brutal punishment."

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent. It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism, imposing harsh punishments.

In addition to his sentence, Badawi was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000). Following his arrest, his wife and children left the kingdom for Canada.

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin contributed to this report.