Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger of his punishment being resumed. He still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Saudi Arabia’s thought-police know that any news about a prisoner can be one more form of punishment for his family. Raif Badawi is always in imminent danger. The mental torture never ceases.
When his story grows more prominent, as it has since the arrest of his sister, Samar Badawi, on July 30, 2018, that torture only becomes sharper. It becomes exquisitely more difficult to find hope.
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 own 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 to not expend energy in the risky business of dreaming.
Saudi Arabia arrested and imprisoned Samar Badawi on July 30, possible charges and location unknown as of this writing.
This post lists the articles I wrote over the last three-plus years about Raif Badawi, a young writer whom Saudi Arabia has punished for his essays, and whose story is finally an international matter this week in a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Canada. I will file a more current post tomorrow.
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More days than not, Ensaf and Samar—and quite possibly Raif and Waleed—find the energy to choose to dream of freedom.
If you believe freedom of speech is a precious commodity, then the most dangerous and assertive act you can perform in the name of that freedom is to keep using it, to keep at it. To keep writing. If you believe this, Raif Badawi’s name is one we should honor. He himself wrote once, “Freedom of speech is the air that any thinker breathes; it’s the fuel that ignites the fire of an intellectual’s thoughts.”
Raif Badawi has written things like the quote at the top, and his home nation, Saudi Arabia, arrested him and put him on trial for apostasy. His country has an official religion, and those convicted of renouncing their religion are punished. With death by beheading. Raif was not found guilty of that charge but he was found guilty of “insulting” the home religion.
Badawi is a writer who started a blog entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals” (it was on WordPress, like this one), then was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam” and with apostasy for his writings, was found guilty of insulting Islam, and was given the fearsome sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. On January 9, 2015, he was whipped in public for the first time; 50 lashes were delivered. He has not been whipped in public since; he has also not been seen in public since.
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 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.
Audacity is not quiet, but Raif Badawi’s essays are quietly audacious. His stand against theism and against the bigotry that of necessity supports theism offends no one who knows that all individuals are free to believe (and to not believe) as they will, but that that particular freedom demands that no one, that no state, may dictate what transpires in another man’s head or heart.
In “Yes! I Will Fight Theists and Religious Thoughts,” Badawi recounts a moment in which a friend asks him how he will react when Hamas “liberates Palestine.” Badawi shocks his friend when he tells him, “I’d be the first to stand and fight Hamas.” He explains to us that although he is against Israel, he is “against replacing Israel with a religious entity built upon its ruins.” He goes on:
Any religion-based state has a mission to limit the minds of its people, to fight the developments of history and logic, and to dumb down its citizens. It’s important to stand in the way of such a mentality, to deny it from continuing its mission to murder the souls of its people, killing them deep within while they are still alive and breathing. …
Look what happened after the European nations managed to remove those clergy from public life and limit them to their churches, denying them any role outside those walls. European countries developed into nations buzzing with civilization, active in building the rights of the individual and exporting knowledge and science to the rest of humanity. …
States that are built on a religious foundation limit their own people in a circle of faith and fear. Abdullah al-Qasemi, the chief proponent of logical thinking in the Arab world [and whose works are banned in Saudi Arabia], agrees that other states celebrate the pleasures of brilliance, creativity, civilization, and life that are forbidden us.
Badawi does not report how his friend reacted to this; it strikes me that there are office-holding and office-pursuing individuals in the United States of America right now who sound too much like those whom Raif Badawi is writing against.
I made a poster years ago to remind myself that Raif is not a symbol; he is a human, a man, a writer, a blogger who wrote his opinions and published them yet lives in a nation in which writing opinions can be viewed as a crime. Yet his writing is peaceful, calm; his essays are a few more bricks we can use to build a more peaceful, compassionate world.
Raif Badawi is the least inflammatory blogger in the world, but in this world of flames, this is the most revolutionary thing he could be. This is why his book, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, is worth reading. This is the poster:
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 two years ago 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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Raif Badawi is a symbol; for much of the world, his is the face of the hope that the Arab Spring engendered. In his essays, he compares that hopeful moment to the French Revolution, and his comparison is not extreme. But his ongoing imprisonment—and the sight of him being whipped on January 9, 2015—is the image of what certain governments will always do to hope.
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.
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 that freedom, remain in real danger today as well. Perhaps more so than even in 2015 or 2012.
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This list corrects errors I created in earlier presentations:
• May 19, 2017: One Hundred Billion Versions of Silence
• May 5, 2017: Will Justin Trudeau Speak Out for Raif Badawi?
• March 30, 2017: The Verdict Against Badawi is Upheld–What Comes Next?
• 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
• August 16, 2016: One Year Ago: A Public Torture
• 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, 2015: 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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