Raif Badawi released, but not free

Exactly one month ago, on 11 March the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was released from prison. Sadly he is still not free. He cannot leave Saudi Arabia, because of a travel ban.

If you have been reading my blog for a long time or you are following me on Twitter, then you know that Raif Badawi was the reason why I started campaigning for human rights in a more serious way and why I started using social media, in particular Twitter. I wrote over the years several blog posts about him. For basically all the time of my campaigning a photo of Raif Badawi has been my profile picture on Twitter and Instagram and I tweeted for him every day since my first tweet for his release in February 2015.

I want to give you in this blog post an update on his current situation and suggest what you can do to help him and his family.

I. Who is Raif Badawi?

I am sure many of you know Raif Badawi, but I still want to give you a few key data about him.

1. Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian blogger und human rights activist. He was born on 13 January 1984. He is the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. His website was a place of political and social debate where Saudis could discuss different topics freely and exchange their ideas. Raif Badawi is married to Ensaf Haidar. They got to know each other when he was 18 years old. They married shortly afterwards in 2002. They have three children: Najwa Badawi (born in 2003), Doudi “Terad” Badawi (born in 2004) and Miriyam Badawi (born in 2007).

Before his arrest in 2012 Raif Badawi has been harassed by the authorities for years. He had been previously arrested in 2008, but was released after one day of questioning. In addition, the authorities froze his bank account and put him under travel ban, so that he could not leave the country.

2. On 17 June 2012 Raif Badawi was arrested again. The charges against him were “insulting Islam through electronic channels”, later also apostasy (conscious abandonment of Islam) was added which carries a mandatory death sentence in Saudi Arabia. His trial began shortly afterwards. In December 2012 the Jeddah District Court referred the charge of apostacy to a higher court. This higher court found him guilty of apostacy, but did not sentence him. In July 2013 he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an internet forum which “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”. His website was closed. One year later in 2014 his sentence was increased by an appeal court to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of 1 million riyals. On 9 January 2015 he received the first 50 lashes in public in front of the mosque in Jeddah. He was supposed to received the complete 1000 lashes over 20 weeks, however this did not happen. Initially further lashes were postponed for medical reasons by first one week and then another week. Ultimately the Saudi authorities did not give him further lashes. One reason was probably the large international public outcry which followed the first flogging of Raif Badawi. Around the same time the courts reviewed again his case and there was even the risk that a new court would sentence him for apostacy to death. Luckily this did not happen.

3. Ensaf and the children fled Saudi Arabia before his arrest. They were first in Egypt and then in Lebanon when the trial against Raif began. However they received threats and did not feel safe. They were granted political asylum by the Government in Canada in 2013. She now lives with the children in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. Ensaf and the children are in the meantime Canadian citizens.

II. Release of Raif Badawi on 11 March

1. As mentioned Raif Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However these years were not calculated on the basis of the Georgian calendar which is used in the West and in most of the world (365 days / year), but on the basis of the Islamic Hijri calendar. The Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar with 12 lunar months in a year of 354 or 355 days. The last day of his sentence was 26 Rajab 1443 which is equivalent to the 28 February 2022. Amnesty International therefore assumed that he would be released on 1 March 2022. Also the Twitter account @Raif_Badawi (tweets by his son Doudi “Terad” Badawi) and his wife’s Twitter account @miss9afi started a countdown on Twitter a couple of days before the 1 March.

2. Raif Badawi was not release on 1 March, but on 11 March his twitter account finally sent this tweet:

His wife informed the press that Raif called her and told her that he was finally released. This news was obviously widely shared by NGOs and individual activists.

Everyone is overjoyed. I have been campaigning for Raif Badawi for such a long time and there are many people I know from my very first days on social media. I assume many of us still cannot fully believe that this event we have been waiting and campaigning for for such a long time has finally occurred.

There is sadly not much information available about his current situation. I also have not seen any current photographs. The future for Raif Badawi remains uncertain. There is still the 10 year travel ban against him which hinders him from joining his family in Canada. This release should also not be interpreted as a softening of Saudi Arabia or an embrace for human rights. Just one day after his released Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in a single day. This mass execution was decried by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and human rights NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to name just two.

However, it is doubtful how much criticism about Raif Badawi’s travel ban, the mass execution, the impunity around the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and generally human rights violations in Saudi Arabia will currently come from the countries around the world. The Ukrainian-Russian war means that many countries try to become independent from Russian oil as quickly as possible, for some this means trying to buy more oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. Boris Johnson, for example, travelled on 13 March to Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and asked for a step up of the oil production in both countries. He said that he raised human rights violations, but there are doubts with how much efforts he did this and in fact Saudi Arabia executed three more people while he was there. He also did not get the reply from Saudi Arabia and UAE he had hoped for.

III. What can I do to help?

I think it is important not to stop campaigning for Raif Badawi until he is really free and reunited with his family in Sherbrooke, Canada. You can continue to protest for him, use social media and there is also a fundraiser in support of Raif and his family.

1. Organise a protest

There are still vigils in support of his unconditional release in Canada, but also in many other countries around the world. I think it would be good to organise protest in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassies in particular on key dates (date of his arrest, his birthday, date of his release) and in relation to key dates to make clear to Saudi Arabia that his release his not enough if he is not also allowed to travel to his family.

In addition, we should also continue reminding the Canadian government that they should do more to help reuniting Raif Badawi and his family. In January 2021 members of the Canadian House of Commons approved a motion to demand that Raif Badawi should be given Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian government welcomed his release and said:

The Government of Canada is pleased that Mr. Badawi has been released from prison. We have consistently advocated on his behalf and will continue to use every opportunity to do so … His well-being is foremost in our minds.

However, so far Raif Badawi has not been granted Canadian citizenship and it is unclear when he will be reunited with his family.

2. Use Social Media

Many of you have been campaigning for the past years for Raif Badawi’s release on social media. We should continue to do to support him.

Amnesty International made this social media picture. You can obviously also continue to use the photos of Raif Badawi which you have been using so far.

I think it is probably in particular effective to use photos of him and his wife or of him and his children to emphasise that the aim is really that they can finally again spend time together.

I would suggest using the same addressees as before, in particular the King of Saudi Arabia (@KingSalman), the Ministry of Interior (@MOISaudiArabia), the Ministry of Justice (@MojKSA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (@KSAMOFA) and ask them to lift the travel ban on Raif Badawi. Please use for these tweets the new hashtag #LiftRaifTravelBan (if you want to in addition to #FreeRaif).

3. Support the fundraise for Raif Badawi

Ensaf Haidar started – together with Giordano-Bruno Stiftung (in Germany), Secular Refugee Relief, Geneva Summit for Human Rights and other organisations a fundraiser with the title “Solidarity with Raif Badawi and his family”. Here is an excerpt from the description :

Raif Badawi and Ensaf Haidar had to pay a high price for defending human rights. For this they were symbolically honoured in many ways (among others with the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament), but neither the fine nor a family can live on honour alone. For this reason, civil society is now called upon to support Raif and Ensaf: Help raise the money so that Raif does not have to go back to prison, but can be reunited with his wife and children. Even small contributions help. Join in!

The purpose of the fundraising to get the money together for the fine of 1 million riyals. This is roughly GBP 205,000 or USD 267,000 or EUR 245,000. In addition the fundraising should also allow them a new start once they are reunited.

There are two platforms for donation. You can donate money on Gofundme.com and for donation from Germany also on betterplace.me.

The websites make clear that 100% of the donations will be put in (trust) accounts for Raif and Ensaf. Please consider supporting these fundraisers and please also share them with friends and family and on social media.

It is wonderful that Raif Badawi was released, but please do not stop supporting him, until he is truly free and reunited with his family.

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