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Middle East

Wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi pleas for his release

media Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced in May 2014 to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison. RSF

It’s been three years since Ensaf Haidar last saw her husband, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced in May 2014 to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for launching his blog that championed free thinking and expression.

"Raif is a man of peace and freedom, he has committed no offense,” said Haidar, during a press conference on Friday in Paris. “So yes, I hope one day he will be released."

Haidar, and the couple’s three children, relocated to Quebec, Canada, in 2013. She hopes he will be able to join them in their new home.

“We miss him. I miss him as the father for my children and as my husband," she said after retracing the judicial nightmare that landed her husband behind bars.

Haidar explains that Badawi created the blog Free Saudi Liberals in 2006 with no other intent than to open peaceful dialogue on issues around human rights, women’s rights, secularism and liberalism.

But in 2008, the climate in which Badawi was writing tightened even further. A fatwa was launched against him for apostasy – or for denying his religion – and the situation became very dangerous. The family tried to leave the gulf kingdom, but officials blocked their bank accounts.

Badawi’s plight continued to worsen and on January 9, 2015, he was flogged 50 times in public.

"His condition right now is very poor. His mental state too. A committee of eight doctors examined him in prison and concluded that he could not endure another session of lashes," Hadai said. But the flogging could restart at any point and he remains in prison serving his ten-year sentence.

Raif could also face a retrial and if he is recharged with apostasy he could face the death penalty.

However, despite this harsh sentence, Badawi has become an international emblem for freedom of expression, and his new book is proof that he cannot be silenced. 

Haidar is also relentlessly campaigning for his release, working alongside Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and appealing to governments across Europe to work with her and initiate dialogue with the Saudi kingdom.

A new book, 1,000 Lashes Because I Dared to Speak Freely, has also been published with the intent of drawing attention to his work. All of the profits will be used to help see Badawi rejoin his family.

The book features a collection of 14 texts gathered by Amnesty International, which were written primarily between 2010 and 2012. It also contains a preface that Badawi dictated to his wife over the phone from prison, an occurance that happens once or twice a week at most.

While most of his writing appears innocuous, Saudi authorities have deemed his words, addressing topics from secularism, women’s rights and liberalism, as insulting to Islam.

Asked whether the new book could further endanger Badawi, his wife says these texts have already existed and that is why he is in jail. Now, it’s for the world to see what he has written.

In one passage, Badawi recounts an anecdote from inside the collective prison bathroom, which he describes as having dirty, soiled walls with smashed doors. While he examines the graffiti scrawled across the walls of the communal bathroom, his eyes fall on one phrase: "Secularism is the solution," he writes, “Stunned, I rub my eyes to make sure I’m really seeing what I see.”

1,000 Lashes Because I Dared to Speak Freely will be published in France on June 4. It is being translated into several languages, reflecting just how much attention Badawi’s case has garnered worldwide.

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