“I didn’t think there could be anything worse than watching a shaky cellphone video of my husband being publicly beaten in front of a mosque thousands of miles away,” Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post.
Ensaf continues that Badawi’s family is currently experiencing something worse than that: It appears that he is once again facing a trial on a charge of apostasy, renouncing one’s religion, a crime that comes with an ultimate punishment—beheading—if a person is found guilty.
No flogging took place today for the Saudi Arabian blogger, activist, father of three:
Officials were silent about their reasons behind today’s non-flogging, which is their practice. What is known is that a public flogging didn’t take place. Raif wasn’t a part of a procession of prisoners driven to a public place, then without announcement, brought forth to be whipped. On January 9, he received a public caning, which supplied confirmation that the punishment could be delivered every Friday. “Public” is a part of Raif’s decreed punishment, so I hope that this means he isn’t being whipped in prison. As I noted above, impartial doctors haven’t been allowed in to visit him.
A prisoner’s family is held captive as well, whatever he is charged with. (I have some experience with this.) It isn’t known if Raif spends each week anticipating a Friday flogging like January 9’s. Prison doctors reported that after that whipping Raif’s wounds hadn’t healed, which is an official reason given behind postponing the second round of fifty lashes on January 16, and apparently ever since. That is a special thing about caning: the cane opens slashing wounds which, if they don’t heal, often become infected. So prison wardens wait, wounds heal, then they administer another set of canings—re-opening a prisoner’s wounds. This is done publicly. Because we don’t know if Raif is spending each week anticipating the next round of fifty, Raif’s wife spends each week anticipating it.
In Ensaf Haidar’s Washington Post op-ed, Raif’s wife reminds us of a moral terror Badawi lives with as well as the damning empty power of official silence:
More than a million people around the world have demanded that the Saudi Arabian authorities release my husband, including more than 60 members of Congress who have sent a letter to the Saudi king calling for his release. But despite this, neither the White House nor Secretary of State John Kerry has followed suit. I beg members of the administration to follow their congressional colleagues’ lead and demand that Raif be released immediately. The United States presents itself as a champion of human rights throughout the world. It cannot allow its important strategic relationship with the kingdom to overshadow its moral standing. Raif must be returned to my arms, not dragged to his death.
The apostasy charge has been hanging over Raif’s head since he was arrested. But even if my husband is not sentenced to death, he will still face the cruel and unusual punishment of years in prison and hundreds of lashes. He cannot be safe until his sentence is quashed and he is released.—Boldface emphasis mine.
A German publisher on April 1 released a German translation of Raif’s writings. In it, he is quoted describing that first flogging: “All this cruel suffering happened to me only because I expressed my opinion.” A German diplomat warned that while “Badawi [is] free to publish whatever he liked in Germany … ‘The ministry cannot predict the consequences of such a publication for him.'”
Ullstein Buchverlage, Raif’s publisher, made sure to explain that Badawi’s preface, in which he described the flogging, is a transcript of a conversation with Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife; thus it isn’t a brand-new piece of writing that might spark another trial.
Badawi’s family released a statement through writer/tireless activist Elham Manea explaining Badawi’s book:
We would like to emphasize that the book is a compliment of articles, which Raif Badawi published in Saudi newspapers before his arrest. In fact, some of these articles are still online and one can access them easily.
As these articles have been published in Saudi media previously, there is nothing in this book that is directed against Raif Badawi’s home country, Saudi Arabia.
In fact, we welcome this publication as it highlights the intellectual work of a Saudi author and introduces him to a global audience. We emphasize that the goal of the book is purely intellectual/cultural, not intended to undermine or provoce [sic] any party.
Moral bravery offers many faces; Raif Badawi and Ensaf Haidar present us with an additional couple. Haidar’s op-ed concludes:
Before his arrest, my husband wrote: ‘We want life for those who wish death to us; and we want rationality for those who want ignorance for us.’ I carry his words and his courage with me on the darkest and most hopeless days. Raif inspires me and compels me to keep raising my voice.
I will not stop until my husband is free.
* * * *
I have written several columns about this story. More background here: “#RaifBadawi and Official Cruelty.”
* * * *
The Gad About Town is on Facebook! Subscribe today. Daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history plus links to other writers.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 4 asks, “Link to an item in the news you’ve been thinking about lately, and write the op-ed you’d like to see published on the topic.”
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 3 asks, “Write an entire post without using any three-letter words.” Done! Three-letter words in blockquotes don’t count.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 8 asks, “Click over to whatever website you visit most frequently to get news. Find the third headline on the page. Make sure that headline is in your post.”
Visit “Occupy Daily Prompt,” the DP Alternative.