Mike Pence calls on Saudi Arabia to release critic of Islam

US Vice President Pence urges Saudis to free blogger Badawi

US Vice President Pence urges Saudis to free blogger Badawi

"All four of these men have stood in defence of religious liberty and the exercise of their faith despite unimaginable pressure, and the American people stand with them", he said.

Although Badawi has been in prison since 2012, he was sentenced in 2014: 10 years in jail, an initial 1,000 lashes and a fine of roughly €194,000 (around $218,000) for "insulting Islam".

US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday called out ally Saudi Arabia for the suppression of religious liberties and urged it to release Raif Badawi, a blogger imprisoned for reportedly insulting Islam.

Vice President Mike Pence also vowed to press North Korea to respect freedom of religion, despite the narrow United States focus on denuclearisation in high-profile summits.

"In Saudi Arabia, blogger Raif Badawi is still in prison for the alleged crime of criticising Islam through electronic means", he told the crowd at the US State Department's Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

In addition to Badawi, Pence called Abune Antonios, patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of Mauritania and Junaid Hafeez of Pakistan prisoners of conscience who should be released.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, citing evidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role in the Khashoggi case and incensed over the civilian toll from the Saudi air campaign in Yemen, have ramped up efforts to block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia. "And the American people stand with them", the vice president said.

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Riyadh has been under increased global pressure to account for its rights abuses after Saudi government agents murdered Khashoggi inside the country's Istanbul consulate on 2 October.

Trump has backed the crown prince and said that human rights concerns should be secondary due to the Riyadh's military alliance with the USA and shared hostility toward Iran.

"We may neverknow all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia", the USA president said in a statement shortly after the killing.

Pence told an audience at the State Department that Saudi Arabia would go a long way towards restoring its worldwide reputation if it released Badawi.

The Saudi blogger's public flogging in 2015 prompted global uproar, with human rights organizations condemning Riyadh and demanding Badawi's immediate release. The Canadian government, meanwhile, hasn't done enough to secure Badawi's freedom, she said.

"The authorities have cracked down on peaceful activists calling for reforms and on demonstrators protesting against human rights violations".

"What we need most urgently here in the Arab, or rather the Islamic world, is a recognition of the individuals who live in these societies", Badawi wrote.

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