One Year Ago: A Public Torture

Raymond Johansen allowed himself to be tortured one year ago today, August 16, 2015, in solidarity with Saudi writer Raif Badawi.

Johansen was hit 50 times by a friend, Tony Clenaghan, with a thin cane, a switch, in Trafalgar Square, where corporal punishments once upon a time were held in public and frequently, but not since the 1830s. Johansen had difficulty walking afterward and even expressed confusion as to where he was upon speaking with a reporter. (Video below.)

When a caning is administered it sometimes does not look as severe as one thinks a beating would look; even one of the words we employ minimizes the severity: “lashes.” In writing about the Saudi Arabian writer Raif Badawi, who was sentenced by Saudi Arabia in 2014 to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison, I have run into the shallow poverty of available analogies. All language is analogy, metaphor, and I have wanted the words to be sufficient to convey the pain of judicial corporal punishment, but they do not. They can not. Raymond Johansen’s action last year pumped life into the analogies, however.
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Thanks for the Compliment

The compliment arrived in the best manner for compliments to arrive: unexpected.

An article posted this morning on the website of the human rights advocacy group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) used some of my reporting.
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Raif Badawi Matters

Who is Raif Badawi?

What follows is an up-to-date list of the articles and columns I have written concerning Raif Badawi. Each one was first published here, in The Gad About Town website; several were subsequently linked to and quoted in other media outlets, including the Raif Badawi Foundation’s website itself. (I am not an impartial reporter, so it was an honor to see my work there.)

The photo-quote at the top is one I created in August 2015.

Who is Raif Badawi? Badawi is a writer from Saudi Arabia who started a blog entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals,” then was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam” and with apostasy for his writings. In Saudi Arabia and many countries, apostasy, the abandonment of a belief—in this case, belief in Islam—is as grave an offense as murder. A conviction on either charge, apostasy or murder, will lead to the same result: state-ordained capital execution. In Saudi Arabia, execution is conducted by beheading in a public square.
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Brave in the Face of Indifference

Bravery is a skill. I do not know if I have cultivated it in myself. Bravery is, of course, not what one does in the absence of fear but what one can do—what one actually does—when fear is present.

[A comment: Today is December 21, 2016. I wrote the first draft of this column almost a year ago. Sadly, the only update to offer today is this one: All the parties described below are, simply, even more brave than they were several months ago. Ali remains in prison. His father posts updates each week and sometimes more frequently on social media. We learned this summer that he earned a university degree while in prison. Dawood al-Marhoon and Abed allahhassan al-Zaher also remain in prison. Raif Badawi remains in prison. He is starting to learn of the global movement that has grown around the fight to free him. Back to the column from October 2015:]
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A Wife’s Lonely Fight for Her Husband

A review of Ensaf Haidar’s excellent new book about her life with Raif Badawi

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How does a young mother tell her children that their father—her husband—is in prison for writing what he thinks in a fundamentalist country that oppresses freedom of thought and freedom of expression? How does she tell her children that their father was taken from them because their country punishes thinkers and writers? How does she tell them he was taken from them?

There is no instruction manual for that situation. The moment in which a young mother must live through exactly this moment is only a brief scene in Ensaf Haidar’s newly published memoir of life with and apart from her husband, the writer Raif Badawi, but it is painful to read, because Ensaf (and her co-writer Andrea C. Hoffmann and their skilled translator Shaun Whiteside) bring the reader into the room with her and the children and invite us to feel their terror and confusion.
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‘Secularism is the Solution’: My articles about Raif Badawi

This is an up-to-date list of the articles and columns I have written concerning Raif Badawi. Each one was first published here, in The Gad About Town website; several were subsequently linked to and quoted in other media outlets, including the Raif Badawi Foundation’s website itself. (I am not an impartial reporter, so it was an honor to see my work there.)

The ongoing diplomatic silence regarding Raif Badawi is perplexing in the face of the global outcry. Last November, Yves Rossier, Switzerland’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, told a Swiss newspaper, La Liberté, that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been suspended.
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Inside Raif Badawi’s Prison Cell

An Exclusive in The Gad About Town

Raif Badawi is one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent prisoners—a political prisoner, certainly, a young blogger who was convicted of insulting Islam in his essays on his web site and then flogged as a part of that punishment; but other than a 750-word article that he dictated over the telephone to serve as an introduction to his book, “1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think,” he has not been heard from in years. His face is known to millions, and sentences from his eloquent writings are seen on thousands of placards and internet memes celebrating freedom of speech, but he is in danger of being reduced to a symbol.

One of my sources in the “Free Raif Badawi” movement shared with me this weekend a glimpse inside Raif Badawi’s current prison existence. This source requested anonymity but encouraged the writing of this article, and I will reveal neither the name nor even the gender of the source. This individual has indirect contact with Raif Badawi and communicates regularly with two other sources inside the prison complex in which Raif Badawi is now being held. We will not betray any information that can compromise Raif Badawi’s security or condition, so I can not quote Raif Badawi directly. I myself have not had contact with Raif Badawi.
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A New Prize for Raif Badawi

Today is the 1418th day the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has spent in prison. Last night, the International Publishers Association awarded him its Prix Voltaire, and his powerhouse wife, Ensaf Haidar, traveled to London to accept the award on his behalf.

Raymond Johansen of the Pirate Party of Norway (#‎PPNO‬) and my sometime collaborator on The Gad About Town website, traveled to London and met with Ensaf this weekend (photo below the fold):
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