As most of you will already know, Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian blogger who was sentenced to ten years prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing his country’s form of government. As the country’s law is Sharia, that amounts to criticizing Islam and is thus blasphemy. Badawi was supposed to receive his 1,000 lashes in batches of fifty per week, to be administered in the square outside a Jeddah mosque following Friday prayers. The first fifty occurred in January, but the remainder have so far been suspended, officially because Badawi is too unwell. Badawi’s wife says if her husband were to be subjected to anymore physical punishment, it would kill him. It may also be political pressure that is stopping the lashes, but Saudi Arabia is not admitting to this.
Recently there was reason to be hopeful that Raif Badawi might be released from prison. At the end of November, the Friendly Atheist reported:
Yves Rossier, the Swiss secretary of Foreign Affairs, has told the newspaper La Liberté that Badawi’s sentence has been officially suspended.
The CBC explains:
Rossier said he brought up the matter while on an official visit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“A royal pardon is in the works thanks to the head of state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,” he added.
If that’s true, it’d be incredible. Badawi’s wife and three kids, who currently live in Quebec, have been pleading for his release, as have human rights activists across the globe.
But it’s a big if. There’s no further confirmation of this information and Badawi has not yet been released. Saying that a pardon is “in the works” could mean any number of things. Until Badawi is safely home with his family, I’m not getting my hopes up.
Reader Ken brought another update to my attention a couple of days ago. Again according to reporting by the Friendly Atheist, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar posted on Facebook on 11 December:
TOP URGENT: Saudi Prison administration transferred Raif Badawi to a new isolated prison and Raif started a hunger strike since Tuesday.
The prison administration transferred today my husband Raif Badawi to a new isolated prison called Prison Shabbat Central, located in a deserted and isolated area — around 87 KM from Jeddah City.
This prison is designed for prisoners, whose verdict has been confirmed with a final Adjudication. The Saudi government has repeatedly declared that Raif’s case is under review and is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.
We express our surprise at this decision especially after the Swiss Secretary of Foreign Affairs Yves Rossier announcement on 28 November that a royal pardon is in the works. And we are very alarmed at the prison administration decision to transfer my husband to the Shabbat Central and fear it may lead to the resumption of his flogging.
As a result of this decision, Raif started in Tuesday a hunger trike and we hold the prison administration responsible for any harm that Raif may suffer.
We take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman to act on his promises and pardon my husband, end his and his family’s ordeal and unite him with his wife and children.
New Zealander Ken Dunae of the Blogidarity blog (not the same person as reader Ken mentioned above) has started a petition to ask the New Zealand government to apply diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to free Raif Badawi. I’ve signed it. On our own we have little of no influence in this, but more and more countries are speaking out about the appalling human rights record in Saudi Arabia, and collectively it’s possible it’ll make a difference. It’s a step up from ignoring the issue anyway.
There seems to some hope, but really, I don’t trust them. Arabia is a corrupt government and a corrupted society which should not exist in the 21st century. The news that women now have the right to vote in local elections (but not drive cars) is certainly welcome, but a baby step. At this rate it will take another century to modernize.
Yeah, I agree. Women can vote, but not in the same polling stations as men (about a third are reserved just for women) and they can’t, of course, drive themselves to the polling station. So they effectively need permission from the man who owns them to do it.
The king says he wants to move forward, but there have been a heap more judicial executions since he took over last year.
This article puts the new voting right for women in some perspective.
Excellent article Ken! I’ve put it on Twitter and a couple of places on Facebook, including the Heather’s Homilies page.
I heard that a leading women’s rights organization in Saudi was boycotting the election because of a lot of the things pointed out in this article.
It’s very disturbing indeed. Thanks for helping keep the pressure on, Heather and Ken.
Raif’s family lives in Canada & we have a new prime minister who has criticized Saudi Arabia. Here is a link to a petition from Raif’s wife asking PM Trudeau to bring Raif to Canada.
Canada has been outstanding in this cause, and I’ve no doubt it will get better with Trudeau as PM.
I was so impressed to see him welcoming the first of the Syrian refugees there too.
Good one Heather. And let’s not forget the hundreds probably thousands of civilians the Saudis have killed in their air strikes on Shia in Yemen.
I need to learn more about Yemen – my knowledge of what’s going on there is nowhere near what it should be for someone who comments on the region as much as I do.
However, it looks a lot to me like Saudi and al-Qaeda are on the same side there in some sort of unholy alliance.
I also see a lot of equivalences between Saudi and Israel vs Yemen and Palestine, but I’m not sure yet whether I’ve got that right.
Yes they are, against the Shia, who the Saudis hate way more than Daesh. Here is a good article that summarises the goals different ME groups have and why none of them aligns with US goals.
And here’s another from Fisk on the Saudi’s so-called coalition against terrorism. He leaves out one obvious reason – that Indonesia have announced their own efforts to challenge the fundamentalist Islamic dogma that mainly the Saudis spread.
Good article. The most effective thing Saudi could do is reform itself and stop exporting Wahhabism to the rest of the world.