'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Sunday, January 18, 2015
Saudi blogger’s wife says global pressure could force his release
The wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi has called on the international community to pressure the Saudi Arabian authorities to release her husband, after his public flogging was postponed this weekend.
Ensaf Haidar was told that the second part of her husband’s punishment, due to take place on Friday after prayers, had been delayed because a doctor had judged that the injuries he had suffered from being lashed the previous week had still not healed and he would not be able to withstand more.
Badawi, 31, was found guilty of offences related to his blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, as well as accusations that he insulted Islam. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail, a heavy fine and 600 lashes – raised on appeal to 1,000 – to be administered at a rate of 50 a week.
Haidar believes that, if leaders such as David Cameron put pressure on the Saudis, Badawi would be allowed to join her in Canada, where she fled with their children after a Saudi cleric put a fatwa on Badawi in 2011, leading to an attempt on his life. He was banned from leaving Saudi by the authorities in 2008 and jailed in 2012, labelled an infidel.
“I have a big hope that Raif will not be in prison for 10 years. I didn’t ever think it would come to me being in Canada and him being in prison, and waiting for him for 10 years.”
Amnesty International is also calling on Cameron to take direct action in support of the principle of free speech. Human rights campaigners, who have been supporting Badawi’s case, have attacked British politicians for “wearing the Saudi muzzle” and want them to press for Badawi’s immediate release.
The case has received widespread condemnation, leading to the king of Saudi Arabia last week referring Badawi’s case to the country’s supreme court. But while Britain, the US, Germany and other countries have condemned the inhumane nature of the sentence, Haidar says she believes only direct, strong criticism by high-profile figures and politicians outside Saudi Arabia could force his release.
“I appreciate all the attention that Raif’s case has been getting,” she said from her home in Quebec. “I hope that all the governments in the world will intensify their efforts to pressure the authorities to stop what they intend doing to my husband. I believe they can do it, if they speak directly to the government in Saudi.”
Haidar revealed that because of the attention the case was getting she had to tell her young children – Najwa, 11, Terad, 10, and Miriam, seven – what was happening. “Raif is all over the internet, so I wanted them to hear from their mother and not from someone they don’t know. It was very hard for them to understand. It’s a very brutal thing for children to hear and they were very sad. They had a lot of questions and they were very worried for him.”
Haidar’s own family have been forced to disown her and Badawi’s father had to appear on Saudi television to condemn his son – the Saudi authorities will punish entire families of those they see as dissidents.
“I have not seen my husband for two years and seven months, and I do not think anything he wrote or said was against Islam. He did write about why the influence of the clerics in the community should be limited and this is what got him into trouble,” she said.
Badawi had written several essays in which he praised Saudi officials for showing signs of reformist ideology and had never criticised his religion of Islam or the Saudi monarchy, she said. She believes that his attacks on the powerful clerics were what got him into trouble.
She left at the end of 2011 when a man armed with a knife tried to murder her husband in a Jeddah supermarket in response to the fatwa.
She said the fact that Saudi ministers were at the Charlie Hebdo march in Paris last week to support free speech was “too much”. “It’s really funny if it wasn’t so shameful at the same time. How could they condemn terrorism outside Saudi Arabia and practise terrorism inside Saudi Arabia? Flogging a human being to me is terrorism,” the 35-year-old said.
Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen said: “Our ministers rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London, but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh.
“Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK’s credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
“David Cameron and his ministers should have the courage of their convictions and say – loud and clear – that Raif Badawi’s case is an absolute disgrace, that this weekly flogging should be halted and he should be freed from jail. “The crime against Saudi law which he is supposed to expiate is simply that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’. There is nothing he said which could be understood as an incitement to violence, and nothing which is not obviously true and commonplace outside the squalid little dogma that suffocates the human spirit in Saudi. Beyond the barbarity of the trial, the sentence and the punishment itself, there are other lessons for the world, though not those which the Saudi authorities would wish us to draw.”
In Sepember 2011 Badawi launched a verbal attack on Saudi clerics on his website after a TV preacher called for astronomers to be punished on the grounds that they encouraged scepticism about sharia law.
Saudi is coming under increasing attack for its human rights violations. Earlier last week a Burmese immigrant worker alleged to have been involved in the death of her employer’s child was executed in a botched beheading in the street. The woman was hacked to death as she protested her innocence.