“Raef Badawi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes,” lawyer Waleed Abualkhair wrote on his Twitter account, adding that the judge ordered the closure of the website of the Saudi Liberal Network.

He said Badawi, a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was charged with criticising the religious police, as well as calling for “religious liberalisation”.

A judge had referred Badawi in December to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a charge that could lead to the death penalty in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The judge said at the time that his lower court was not qualified to deal with the case.

But the charge of apostasy was dropped on Monday, activists said.