A Saudi Arabian blogger has been publicly flogged after being convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam, reports say.
Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail, was flogged 50 times. The flogging will be carried out weekly, campaigners say.
Mr Badawi, the co-founder of a now banned website called the Liberal Saudi Network, was arrested in 2012.
Rights groups condemned his conviction and the US appealed for clemency.
On Thursday state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged the Saudi authorities to “cancel this brutal punishment” and to review his case.
In addition to his sentence, Mr Badawi was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000; £175,000).
In 2013 he was cleared of apostasy, which could have carried a death sentence.
Last year Mr Badawi’s lawyer was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of a range of offences in an anti-terrorism court, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The flogging took place outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after Friday prayers, witnesses said.
AFP news agency, quoting people at the scene, said Mr Badawi arrived at the mosque in a police car and had the charges read out to him in front of a crowd.
He was then made to stand with his back to onlookers and whipped, though he remained silent, the witnesses said.
The sentence was widely condemned by human rights groups.
“The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law,” said Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International.
“By ignoring international calls to cancel the flogging Saudi Arabia’s authorities have demonstrated an abhorrent disregard for the most basic human rights principles.”
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.
Rights groups and activists say his case is part of a wider clampdown on dissent throughout the kingdom. Officials have increasingly blunted calls for reforms since the region’s 2011 Arab Spring upheaval.
He called from prison and informed his family of the flogging, due Friday, said a person close to the case. The person, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said Badawi was “being used as an example for others to see”.
Badawi was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment. Following his arrest, his wife and children left the kingdom for Canada.
In another news, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group says Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah did not directly mention the Paris attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, but he said Islamic extremists who behead and slaughter people – a reference to the IS group’s rampages in Iraq and Syria – have done more harm to Islam than anyone else in history.
Nasrallah spoke Friday via video link to supporters gathered in southern Beirut.
Nasrallah’s Shiite group is fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad.
His remarks are in stark contrast to those of Sunni militants from the IS group and al-Qaida who have called for attacks on Western countries.
Source Credits: Iranian, BBC, The Guardian, WLOX 13, AP