It’s been five years since Saudi writer and activist, Raif Badawi was imprisoned for advocating liberalism and secularism. Today the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delivered a personal plea from Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, to the United Nations, calling for his release.
In the plenary chamber of the UN Human Rights Council today, IHEU director of advocacy ‘, Elizabeth O’Casey, read out the statement on behalf of Ms Haidar, also backed by a number of other organizations in support of freedom of expression and human rights. O’Casey is also an international advisor to the Raif Badawi Foundation.
In the statement, Ensaf Haidar calls on the Human Rights Council, the very body “charged with the protection and promotion of human rights” internationally, to pressure Saudi Arabia to release Raif Badawi and all those like him, “jailed and mistreated for standing up for the human rights of all.” She said her husband’s only crime was to call for freedom of opinion and expression in his country, and that those who have the power to defend freedom but do not will be burdened by their conscience forever more.
The statement was supported by a number of human rights groups; including Reporters without Borders, Pen International, Jimmy Wales Foundation, Raif Badawi Foundation, and the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL).
Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the Human Rights Council; and as such is obliged – according to the Human Rights Council Founding Resolution – “to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Despite this, Raif Badawi has remained in prison simply for creating a liberal website and calling for human rights to be respected in Saudi Arabia.
He was arrested in 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam through electronic channels and brought to court on several charges including apostasy. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, then re-sentenced even more harshly with 1000 lashes and ten years in prison plus a fine in 2014. He has been kept in terrible conditions despite suffering from extremely poor health, and in January 2015 was subjected to 50 of the lashings he was sentenced with, an act which IHEU said must be recognised internationally as “barbarity and torture, plain and simple”.
Since his imprisonment, Raif has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and honoured with many awards including, the EU’s Sakharov prize for human rights (2015) the Deutsche Welle for Freedom of Speech Award (2015), the One Humanity Award From PEN Canada (2014 ) and the Netizen Prize of Reporters without Borders (2014). In May this year, Raif was awarded the Committed Optimist award for Freedom of Expression by Anoche Tuve Un Sueño Magazine, which Elizabeth O’Casey picked up on his behalf.
Of Raif’s case and delivering Ensaf Haidar’s statement to the UN, O’Casey said, “It was a great privilege to be able to represent Ensaf Haidar today. She has gone to the ends of the earth to champion her husband’s cause, and not only that, she goes out of her way to highlight that Raif Badawi is only one of many prisoners held for their conscience in Saudi Arabia. It is time that the Saudi authorities recognised what the world is telling them: your silencing of critics and reformists cannot be justified as a matter of state or a matter of religion, you are violating human rights. It is time to free Raif and free all those who you have imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of thought and expression.”
Raif’s own lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, is another prisoner of conscience under the Saudi regime. He was jailed in 2014 after setting up a human rights organisation, Monitor of Human Rights. Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, followed by a 15 year ban on travel. The Specialised Criminal Court in Jeddah found him guilty of “undermining the regime and officials”, “inciting public opinion” and “insulting the judiciary.”
Ensaf Haidar’s statement, as delivered by O’Casey, follows in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 35th Session (6th June – 23rd June 2017)
General Debate on Item 4
Tomorrow will mark five years that have passed since Raif Badawi, the liberal human rights activist and writer, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The IHEU and other organisations* would like to mark this with a statement by his wife, Ensaf Haidar:
Freedom of expression is the air inhaled by every free thinker; it is the spark that ignites the flame of ideas and all forms of creativity.
Raif Badawi, a writer, activist, creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, my husband, and father of my children, sought to nurture that spark.
For that he was arrested and sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison.
Raif’s case is not a unique one. With him, there are many, many more; including his lawyer Waleed Sami Abulkhair and poet Ashraf Fayadh.
Raif did not call for a revolution in Saudi Arabia; he believed with firm conviction that change is possible, and peaceful transition necessary there.
When I explained to my children why their father was in prison, they said, “then our father is guilty of calling for freedom of opinion and expression.” Yes. There is no truer description: “Guilty of calling for freedom of opinion and expression.”
The peaceful expression of opinion and thought is a non-negotiable human right. It is the right of all human beings with no exception. I call on the very Council charged with the protection and promotion of human rights to do more to pressure its member Saudi Arabia to release my husband and all others like him, jailed and mistreated for standing up for the human rights of all.
Raif is in prison but his conscience is free and clear; the real prisoners are those people who have the power to defend freedom but do not. They forever will be burdened by their conscience.
*Supporting organisations –
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
European Humanist Federation
International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL)
Jimmy Wales Foundation
Muslims for Progressive Values
Raif Badawi Foundation
Reporters without Borders (RSF)
Teaching For Solidarity