The Defining Dignity Initiative, an Essay by Matt DeHart

Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.

This is the fourth article in a series of prison essays by Matt DeHart. The first: “You don’t act like an American,” the second: “Hospitality in Mexico,” and Matt’s third: “Shattered.” It is a personal honor for me to publish his words from prison.

Matt DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to. In “Defining Dignity,” he challenges us all to put meaning—and action—behind that commandment that is so often expressed and so little heeded: “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which of course is found in the Book of Matthew.

The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made. It was sent to me by his mother, Leann DeHart, with the request that it is published as written.
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My Posts about Raif Badawi & Saudi Arabia

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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Shawkan’s Latest Delay

A journalist’s job is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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June 13: The next hearing in the ongoing trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the Egyptian photojournalist who goes by the name “Shawkan,” will be held on Tuesday, July 4, it was learned today.

An additional three weeks. For a human rights trial noteworthy for its glacial pace, this is the latest example of the trial’s simple inhumanity. One more delay is a delay; years of delays are a lifetime.

Today is Shawkan’s 1400th day in prison.
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Another Ten Days

A journalist’s job is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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For the second time this month, the usual adjournment in the ongoing trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the Egyptian photojournalist who goes by the name “Shawkan,” will be ten days rather then one month, which had been the usual postponement length. Shawkan’s next court appearance will be Tuesday, May 30.

Perhaps it means nothing at all.

The photo of Shawkan at top was taken in court today. It is reported that Shawkan’s medical documents were reviewed and that he is “in good condition.” “Good condition” can be a sliding scale: it has long been known that Shawkan has Hepatitis C and his lawyers have reported in the past that essential medications for that illness have been sporadically administered by the prison authorities.

 
Ten more days. For a human rights trial noteworthy for its glacial pace, perhaps the fact of a briefer delay until the morning that Shawkan can have his case heard means something, but this trial rebuffs all attempts to interpret its tiny shifts and huge delays.

Today is Shawkan’s 1375th day in prison.
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One Hundred Billion Versions of Silence

Will these names be spoken by American officials this weekend in Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi, Ali Mohamed al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Ashraf Fayadh?

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The president of the United States will have one hundred billion reasons after this weekend to ignore the facts about the nation he chose as his first foreign destination: Saudi Arabia. He and his already embattled administration chose Saudi Arabia as the location of his first summit abroad—rather than Canada or Mexico, which U.S. presidents traditionally visit first—for a photo op: the president with King Salman and a game-show-style giant check between them.

The United States and Saudi Arabia will announce this weekend that Saudi Arabia will purchase at least $100 billion worth of military equipment, software, and ongoing expertise from American military contractors. Some military business experts estimate that after a decade the deals will be worth three hundred billion dollars.

“The customer is always right,” goes the old retail cliché, and there are two parts to a customer’s continual rightness: the customer has a right to complain about the product purchased or the service in the store no matter what, and the service has a duty to remain silent about the customer’s behavior, even when it is offensive.
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Joel Guerrero Freed; What Comes Next?

Numbers only provide a snapshot, a sense of the size of the story. In February, soon after the new U.S. President announced a desire to deport three million illegal immigrants in his first year in office, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started to conduct what it called “targeted enforcement operations” across the nation.

Sources report that in a five-day operation in February, some 680 individuals were detained under ICE’s new mandate. In March, another 729 were arrested in actions across the country. The total numbers are not yet known. The number deported has not been publicized.
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Justice Delayed: ‘This is my existence … I’m Shawkan’

A journalist’s job is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Perhaps it is an indication of progress that the latest adjournment in the ongoing trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the Egyptian photojournalist who goes by the name “Shawkan,” was announced in court today for a date that is less than a month in the future: Saturday, May 20. Most of the postponements in the trial have been a month or longer.

Perhaps it means nothing at all. The court was presented with a “report on the forensic medicine of” Shawkan but Shawkan was reported to not be present:

 
Eleven days. For a human rights trial noteworthy for its glacial pace, perhaps the fact of a briefer delay until the morning that Shawkan can have his case heard means something, but this trial rebuffs all attempts to interpret its tiny shifts and huge delays.

Today is Shawkan’s 1365th day in prison.

Shawkan’s ongoing story, with its staggered month-by-month steps, is one of the denial of basic human rights by a nation allied with Western governments, but it also has been a story of many citizens stepping up and making certain that Shawkan’s story is heard. Both stories are worth knowing.

Shawkan is one of approximately twenty-five journalists jailed in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

For those unaware of Shawkan’s story, I recently wrote the following background article:
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Will Justin Trudeau Speak Out for Raif Badawi?

Raif Badawi remains in prison. Raif Badawi still awaits 950 lashes with a whip. Raif Badawi remains in danger …

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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.”
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