A Saudi blogger has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for using his website to insult Islam. Believe it or not, that's a lighter sentence than Raif Badawi, 35, might have received: he was originally arrested last year for apostasy (or abandoning religion), a crime that is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, the BBC reports. Badawi's lawyer says instead he was charged for calling for "religious liberalization" in the country and criticizing the religious police, AFP reports. The judge also ordered that the website, Free Saudi Liberals, be shut down.
"This incredibly harsh sentence for a peaceful blogger makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia's claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue," says a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, per CNN. A State Department spokeswoman says the US is also "deeply concerned" about the sentence, the AP reports. "We believe that when public speech is deemed offensive, be it via social media or any other means, the issue is best addressed through open dialogue and honest debate," she says. Badawi's lashes will be administered 150 at a time, reports the BBC. His lawyer says he will appeal the sentence.