The family of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi say his release may be imminent, a decade after he was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for criticizing religious figures and promoting liberal views on Islam.
Badawi, whose wife and three children now live in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, was arrested in 2012 and initially sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and a fine of over $340,000. $.
His story made international headlines in 2015 when, as part of that sentence, he was whipped 50 times outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. The resulting international pressure forced the suspension of the rest of his lashes, according to Amnesty International.
Now, after an unbearable wait, his family and supporters believe his release could be days away, as his 10-year sentence will have been fully served by February 28.
“My father always hugged us and I don’t even remember,” says his eldest daughter Najwa Badawi, now a student at Cégep de Sherbrooke.
“It’s not very normal for a child to not even remember his father’s hugs.”
The family is fighting to bring him to Canada
Former justice minister Irwin Cotler, who served as international legal adviser to Badawi’s family, said there were still legal hurdles that Saudi authorities would need to remove before the family could bring him to Canada.
“They should allow the other restrictions imposed during the original sentencing to no longer be applied,” he said. This includes the fine and a 10-year travel ban.
“It’s something that [his family has] I’ve been waiting painfully for it for 10 years,” Cotler said. “I’ve seen it myself and I’ve seen the kids – living without their father has been very difficult.”
Although progress has been slow, Saudi officials may wish to show leniency by releasing Badawi now, according to Sylvana Al Baba Douaihy, a researcher at the Center for Research on Society, Law and Religion at the University of Sherbrooke.
“The Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] has this ambition to repair its image and the image of the kingdom, which was quite tarnished after the assassination of [Jamal] Khashoggi in 2018,” she says.
“He should be proud”
While awaiting his return, Najwa Badawi says she makes the most of the short phone calls she receives with her father, even if they have to stick to superficial conversations.
“We can’t talk about real things because he’s being listened to. He can’t talk to us about how he feels,” she said. “I haven’t seen him in 11 years. I don’t know what he looks like and he doesn’t know what we look like.”
Najwa says her father should be proud that he fought to advance freedoms in his home country, despite the consequences. And inspired by her father, she hopes to study to become a lawyer.
“I want… to be able to defend people who are in his situation,” she said. “If I can help people, he will be proud of me. It will make him happy.”