Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal on January 13, 2015. Raif Badawi’s supporters say they haven’t given up the fight to free him as they mark the five-year anniversary of his imprisonment. Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his criticism of Saudi clerics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal on January 13, 2015. Raif Badawi’s supporters say they haven’t given up the fight to free him as they mark the five-year anniversary of his imprisonment. Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his criticism of Saudi clerics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

More than seven years after Raif Badawi was thrown in prison, lawyers and allies of the Saudi blogger are increasingly lobbying foreign governments in an effort to secure his release as Saudi Arabia prepares to host next year’s G-20 meeting.

Irwin Cotler, a human rights lawyer and former federal justice minister who represents the family internationally, says advocates for Badawi have recently been meeting with foreign governments, UN representatives and others to encourage them to call for the release of Badawi, his sister Samar, their former lawyer Waleed Abulkhair and other imprisoned human rights defenders.

Cotler sat down with The Canadian Press to discuss the intensifying effort to free the 35-year-old Badawi, who was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics.

Cotler said it is urgent ”to both internationalize and intensify our advocacy” as Saudi Arabia chairs the G-20 ahead of the meeting in Riyadh in November 2020.

That effort appeared to yield results last month when U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence called on Saudi Arabia to free Badawi as well as three other jailed dissidents.

The four dissidents, Pence said, “have stood in defence of religious liberty and the exercise of their faith despite unimaginable pressure, and the American people stand with them.”

Pence’s statement followed one by European Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala in June, which describes Badawi’s sentence as ”unjust, disproportionate and arbitrary” and urged the Saudi government to free him. The European Union awarded Badawi the Sakharov prize, its top human rights award, in 2015.

READ MORE: Canada ‘clear, strong’ with Saudis on importance of human rights, PM says

READ MORE: Canada helping young Saudi refugee won’t hurt Raif Badawi’s case, wife says

Cotler sees significant progress in the year since Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s tweet calling for the release of Raif and Samar Badawi sparked a diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. (While neither prisoner is a Canadian citizen, Raif Badawi’s wife and three children live in Sherbrooke, Que., and were granted citizenship last year.)

The fallout from the tweet saw Saudi Arabia suspend diplomatic ties, halt investment and Canadian imports and threaten to shut down scholarships for its citizens studying in Canada. “Not one democracy came to Canada’s defence,” Cotler said.

He said that while he disagreed with Saudi Arabia being awarded G-20 host duties, he believes the Riyadh summit could be an opportunity to increase the pressure to free the prisoners — and give Saudi Arabia the chance to prove it can be a “credible” host.

“If the Crown Prince wants to be taken seriously, if Saudi Arabia wants to be seen seriously as chair of the G20, he can’t call for reforms — which we support — regarding women, such as the right to drive, then imprison the same women who called for the reforms.”

He said Pence’s statement came after he and Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, travelled to Washington earlier this year to meet with lawmakers and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has contacts with the vice-president.

Cotler believes the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, was a “wake-up call” for democracies that had previously hesitated to speak up against the Saudi regime.

More than eight months after Khashoggi’s death, a UN special rapporteur released a report saying there was “credible evidence” to warrant further investigation and financial sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Efforts by Badawi’s advocates in the coming weeks and months include a renewed application for clemency, which argues that a pardon would be in line with Saudi law.

Canada, too, has a part to play, says Cotler, who was Liberal justice minister from 2003-06. He plans to once again call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant Canadian citizenship to Badawi, which would ensure he could receive visits and has “diplomatic protection that is not now authorized.”

Badawi’s advocates say that while he hasn’t received any more corporal punishment, his health has declined and he continues to suffer psychologically from the threat of lashings and the separation from his wife and children.

And while some believe his prison conditions may have improved since the international pressure escalated, Cotler said his situation remains dire.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” he said. ”You meet with his children, and every day the children can’t be with their father is a loss for him and a loss for them.”

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Intricate cloth masks with Indigenous design made by Teresa Snow. Facebook/ Masks4Maskwacis
‘Masks 4 Maskwacis’ wins Northern Lights Volunteer Award

The group received recognition for their efforts to support their community during COVID-19.

Most Read