The Verdict Against Badawi is Upheld–What Comes Next?

Raif Badawi remains in prison. Raif Badawi still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Raif Badawi remains in danger. Saudi Arabia’s thought-police know that the slow drip-drip-drip of news about a prisoner’s legal status is one more form of punishment.

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Raif Badawi learned today, March 20, that both the verdict against him and the one million riyal (approx. $266,663) fine leveled against him have been upheld by Saudi Arabia’s judicial system.

The immediate impact of these decisions is not known. There are many questions, not the least of which is: what effect might today’s decision have on the other two other parts of Raif Badawi’s sentence—ten years in prison and 1000 lashes with a whip? The answer is yet to be revealed.

Later this spring, Badawi will pass the five-year mark in prison. (Today, March 20, 2017, is Raif Badawi’s 1760th day in prison.) On January 9, 2015, fifty lashes were administered with a cane, and 950 more remain undelivered to this day. Will the whipping be resumed? Or, optimistically, if the fine can be paid in full, might that be a way for humanity to pry Raif Badawi from the inhumane Saudi Arabian judicial system, in which the act of thinking is considered a crime worthy of corporal punishment?

Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger of his punishment being resumed. Saudi Arabia has never publicly stated any intention to free him, reduce his ten-year sentence, or show him any leniency, and today was but one more reminder from that nation that its thought-police know that the slow drip-drip-drip of news about a prisoner’s legal status is another form of punishment. Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger. The mental torture never ceases.

For Raif—and for his lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abulkhair, who is also in prison in Saudi Arabia in a gross violation of his human rights—and for their two brilliant and courageous wives, Ensaf Haidar and Samar Badawi, today is another challenging day. Each one is. Each day, news or none, is spent weighing the choice between daring to dream of freedom or not expending the energy in the risky business of dreaming.

More days than not, Ensaf and Samar—and quite possibly Raif and Waleed—find the energy to choose to dream of freedom.

It is an ordeal for all concerned. Badawi’s wife, Ensaf, must feel deep down every waking second and quite a few of her sleeping moments that the love of her life remains in terrible danger every minute that they are apart, each additional moment he spends in prison. The last time Raif Badawi was seen in public was two years ago, when he was flogged in public for writing.

Ensaf describes the terrible experience of watching the video of her husband being whipped in her book, Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom:

It’s indescribable, watching something like that being done to the person you love. I felt the pain they were inflicting on Raif as if it was my own. The men I had seen in the video might as well have put me in a square and flogged me. But worst of all was the feeling of helplessness. I sat on my sofa, wrapped my arms around my legs, and wept.
I don’t know how long I sat there for. The phone rang several times, but I didn’t answer. How was Raif now, I wondered. How severe were the wounds he had suffered from this brutal abuse? Had they broken his bones? The violence of the blows almost mde me suspect as much. Did he get medical treatment for his wounds? If only I could have done something for him!

This is what Ensaf Haidar lives with every second. Every prisoner’s loved ones around the world live with something like this, especially those with a sentence that includes corporal punishment and the corporal punishment is for writing, for the expression of thoughts.

Raif Badawi is a man as well as an icon in the ongoing fight for human rights, but he is a human being first—a young man, a husband, a father, and a prisoner held at Dhahban Central Prison, north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He was moved to Dhahban in December 2015 at least in part because of how internationally prominent his case has become.

Dhahban is a prison in which Saudi Arabia’s justice system holds its more prominent prisoners: those convicted of being terrorists, of being members of Al Qaeda or ISIS. And, also, Raif Badawi and his lawyer, the human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair, who is also married to Raif’s sister, Samar Badawi.

It is a more tightly controlled prison compared to Badawi’s previous prison. It was reported to me last year that Badawi is well-fed and is in good health, generally, but it is a harsher prison, and this has taken a physical toll on him—the arid air north of Jeddah is difficult to breathe for Badawi, which is something new that he has had to deal with since he was moved to Dhahban—and has strained his mental health. At Dhahban Central, prisoners are under orders to pray towards Mecca twice a day—and the guards make certain that everyone does. Prayer is not voluntary.

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Over the last twenty-six months I have published a few dozen articles about the imprisoned Saudi Arabian writer and thinker Raif Badawi, who was caned for his essays; his wife, Ensaf Haidar; and Saudi Arabia.

Raif Badawi is a symbol; for much of the world, his is the face of the Arab Spring. In his essays, he compares the Arab Spring to the French Revolution, and his comparison is not extreme. His ongoing imprisonment—and the sight of him being whipped on January 9, 2015—is the image of what certain governments want to do to the Arab Spring.

This post lists all the articles that I have written and published thus far about Raif Badawi. This website is the only one on the planet to have had insider’s reports from verified sources on conditions in Raif Badawi’s prison.

Raif wrote in his introduction to his book, 1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think, of seeing a graffito in his prison’s filthy group lavatory: it surprised and delighted him. It said “Secularism is the solution!” He wrote, “The sentence stood alone among the dozens of obscenities that were written in so many Arabic dialects. This discovery could only mean one thing. There was at least one other person here who understood me, who understood the reasons I was jailed.”

“Secularism is the solution,” that handwritten scrawl found in a prison toilet, is the guiding thesis inside each of my articles. Secularism is the solution.

The ongoing diplomatic silence regarding Raif Badawi is perplexing in the face of the global outcry. In November 2015, more than a year ago, Yves Rossier, Switzerland’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, told a Swiss newspaper, La Liberté, that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been suspended.

“A royal pardon is in the works thanks to the head of state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,” Rossier informed the world. No one has reported any update from M. Rossier about this claim. It was soon after M. Rossier shared this that Raif Badawi was moved to his current location, however. Whether the pardon is real or will be a reality is unknown. What is known is that Raif Badawi remains a prisoner and the threat of continued lashings remains as well.

Is Raif Badawi’s future freedom a game piece in a contest between Saudi Arabia and its global reputation? Is there a perfect moment for the country to release him that I am as deaf to as the others covering the Raif Badawi story?

There are several issues that possibly rank ahead of human rights—and one man’s awful corporal punishment, a whipping, merely for writing, and his all-important freedom—on the list of concerns that complicate the relationship between Saudi Arabia and other nations. The ongoing war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is backing the government in a fight against rebels, is notorious, leading to atrocities, and is in danger of becoming Saudi Arabia’s version of America’s involvement in Vietnam. That is one. Saudi Arabia’s use of the “fight against terrorism and ISIS” as an excuse to round up those it declares to be dissidents is another.

What is one man’s freedom worth, after all? Raif Badawi, a man, lives in imminent danger. Freedom of speech, the concept and mankind’s valiant pursuit of it, remain in real danger today as well.

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This list corrects errors I created in earlier presentations:

 February 15, 2017: A Summons for Samar Badawi
 January 13, 2017: Raif Badawi’s Ordeal
 December 30, 2016: The Importance of Raif Badawi
 October 18, 2016: Raif Badawi’s Punishment Continues
 October 4, 2016: Raif Badawi and the Nobel Peace Prize
 June 16, 2016: A Wife’s Lonely Fight for Her Husband
 May 12, 2016: Secularism Is the Solution
 April 17, 2016: Inside Raif Badawi’s Prison Cell
 April 11, 2016: A New Prize for Raif Badawi
 March 25, 2016: #ReadRaif: Now More than Ever
 January 26, 2016: Raif Badawi’s Hunger Strike
 January 9, 2016: One Year After He Was Flogged, Raif Badawi Remains a Prisoner
 December 16: Badawi’s Absence Is a Presence at Prize Ceremony
 December 11: A Cloud of Uncertainty
 October 29: Winner of the Sakharov Prize
 September 14: Award Raif Badawi the Nobel Peace Prize
August 18: Tortured
June 17: Three Years in Prison for Blogging
June 10: An Urgent Need for Action
June 7: A Sense of Injustice
June 1: Speak out for Those Who Can’t
May 7: Ignite the Light
April 3: We Want Life
March 13: Raif Badawi and Official Cruelty
March 6: Raif Badawi Remains a Prisoner
February 20: 1000 Days
February 6: #FreeRaif, Week 5
January 31: Raif Badawi, Week 3
January 22: An Update about Raif Badawi
January 12: For Raif Badawi

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In 2015, I recorded myself reading one essay from Raif Badawi’s book, 1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think. It is the entire chapter, “Is Liberalism Against Religion?” Get yourself a copy of the book. I have intentions to record myself reading more of his essays, if that appeals to readers.

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