Saudi frees women's rights activist close to blogger Raef Badawi: daughter

Ensaf Haidar, the wife of the Saudi Blogger Raef Badawi, holds a press conference in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday asking Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper to plead on Saudi Arabia to free her husband. Badawi was flogged in public on Jan 9 near a
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of the Saudi Blogger Raef Badawi, holds a press conference in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday asking Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper to plead on Saudi Arabia to free her husband. Badawi was flogged in public on Jan 9 near a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, receiving 50 lashes for "insulting Islam". -- PHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (AFP) - A woman who co-founded the Saudi Liberal Network Internet discussion group with blogging activist Raef Badawi has been freed after about three months in prison, her daughter said on Sunday.

Suad al-Shammari had spent around 90 days at a women's prison in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, her daughter Sarah al-Rimaly said.

"She's released now, thanks be to God," Rimaly said.

She added that her mother was freed three days ago after signing a pledge "to reduce her activities".

She was arrested in late October for insulting Islam, activists said at the time.

Shammari, who had posted comments on Twitter about Islamic religious leaders, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rimaly said her mother is fine but has been "suffering from a lack of nutrients" because she depends on a special diet.

"She's recovering now," her daughter said.

Saudi Arabia's new King Salman late on Thursday issued an amnesty for some prisoners, but Rimaly said her mother's release was unconnected to this.

Rimaly added that she does not think the amnesty will cover Badawi, who is serving a 10-year jail sentence for insulting Islam.

He was also ordered to receive 1,000 lashes, a punishment which has drawn worldwide outrage and been dismissed as "cruel and inhuman" by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

Badawi, 31, received the first 50 lashes of his sentence publicly in Jeddah on Jan 9.

Subsequent rounds of flogging were postponed for the following two weeks on medical grounds.

A session last Friday was also deferred, said his wife Ensaf Haidar, adding that the reason was not clear.

Speaking to reporters and lawmakers in Canada, where she has sought asylum with their three children, she said on Thursday that Badawi's health is "bad and it's getting worse".

Shammari has said the charges against Badawi were levelled after the Saudi Liberal Network criticised clerics and the kingdom's notorious religious police, who have been accused of a heavy-handed enforcement of sharia law.

Badawi was arrested in June, 2012 under cybercrime provisions.

A court in Jeddah sentenced him the following year to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for insulting Islam and setting up the liberal network.

A judge ordered the website shut.

An appeals court later overturned the original verdict, sending the case back for a retrial at which a more severe sentence was imposed.

Badawi is among more than a dozen "prisoners of conscience" behind bars for their peaceful activism in Saudi Arabia, according to rights group Amnesty International.