By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Saudi Arabia Thursday to release a dissident blogger it has convicted on charges of insulting Islam.
Pence's comments are a rare public rebuke from the Trump administration to a key regional ally in its "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.
"In Saudi Arabia, blogger Raif Badawi is still in prison for the alleged crime of criticizing Islam through electronic means," Pence said, listing Raif among four men Pence said are being detained for freely expressing their faith.
"All four of these men have stood in defense of religious liberty, the exercise of their faith despite unimaginable pressure, and the American people stand with them," he added.
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Eritrea and Mauritania, Pence said, should "respect the rights of conscience of these men and let these men go."
Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and sentenced in 2014 to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.
He had operated the Free Saudi Liberals website that was critical of the Saudi monarchy and clerical establishment and advocated for secularism.