Raif Badawi remains in prison. Raif Badawi still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Raif Badawi remains in danger …
* * * *
In an open letter published May 3, Amnesty International Canada asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew and intensify efforts to encourage Saudi Arabian authorities to free prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi.” The letter’s authors, Alex Neve and Béatrice Vaugrante, emphasize that the organization is asking that the Canadian government “and you personally” (meaning Prime Minister Trudeau) work for Badawi’s release. The letter was directed to Trudeau as a part of World Press Freedom Day, which was marked with events around the globe on May 3.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and the couple’s three young children moved to Canada in 2014 as refugees and have permanent resident status in that nation. The city in which they now live, Sherbrooke, Quebec, awarded Badawi an honorary citizenship in 2015. Thus, the letter writers remind Trudeau, “Canada is well positioned to urge Saudi officials to release Mr. Badawi on humanitarian grounds so that he can reunite with his family.”
“In fact,” Amnesty International Canada urges, “there is no other country with a stronger responsibility to champion Mr. Badawi’s case.”
In April 2016, six months after he took office, Prime Minister Trudeau said that his government “wants to be able to help” Raif Badawi, but “sometimes, pushing too hard, too quickly has harmful consequences for the people you want to try to help.” His “pushing too hard, too quickly” comment was criticized by Amnesty International Canada. To Amnesty International Canada’s credit, the organization is looking and working toward the future and not reviewing the past.
Before he became prime minister, Trudeau spoke about Raif Badawi more than once, and he met with Ensaf Haidar soon after he won the office. He has not publicly spoken about Raif Badawi since.
Badawi is 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. He was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2014 and 1000 lashes with a cane, fifty of which were delivered on January 9, 2015, all for writing. More than a year ago, sources told me that conditions in the prison are taking a toll on his mental health; he has staged hunger strikes to protest his treatment.
“This prison has crushed his soul,” Elham Manea, who is authorized to speak for the Badawi family, told an online newspaper, Middle East Eye.
Raif Badawi and his family have been living in a Kafka-esque dreamscape of religion-as-part-of-state-bureaucracy since 2008. That was the year that Badawi set up a website, a blog named “Saudi Arabian Liberals,” and he was arrested, questioned, and released by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. Badawi was then charged with insulting Islam. He left his country, was told the charges were being dropped, returned home because he has a young family there, and then was blocked from leaving the country again, which is never an indication of good things to come.
The web site continued, and he was arrested again in 2012, five years ago next month, when a religious leader said that his website “infringes on religious values” and proved that he is an apostate, or one who renounces his religion. In his country, apostasy carries with it a sentence of death, and that legal question—is Raif Badawi an apostate or not?—that question kept his case bouncing between courts in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A lower court declared that it did not have the authority to decide the apostasy issue, and it referred the case to a higher court, which then decided that the lower court could indeed decide if Badawi is an apostate.
He was cleared of the apostasy charge, which spared him his life. The court sentenced him for the charges that he might have been considered guilty of from pretty much the moment he was arrested in 2012: insulting the faith and “going beyond the realm of obedience.” Ten years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a one million riyal fine. And his lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was arrested and found guilty of setting up a human rights monitor organization, which landed the lawyer a 15-year jail sentence.
* * * *
Over the last twenty-four 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. He was arrested on June 17, 2012; 1671 days ago.
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.
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.
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?
* * * *
This list corrects errors I created in earlier presentations of this list:
• 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
* * * *
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.
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.
Follow The Gad About Town on Instagram!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.