German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has criticized the sentence against Saudi blogger Raif Badawi shortly before meeting Sunday with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh.

The German news agency dpa quoted Gabriel as saying "the harshness of this sentence, especially the corporal punishment, is something unimaginable for us, and of course it weighs on our relations (with Saudi Arabia)."

Badawi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison, a hefty fine and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. He had urged Saudis to share opinions about the role of religion in the country on his Free Saudi Liberals website.

The case prompted harsh criticism from human rights groups.

Gabriel, who is Germany's economy minister, also met with three female human rights activists during his Saudi stop on a tour of Gulf states.