Bianca Jagger joins fight to free Saudi blogger Raif Badawi
Almost two months after jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a central square in Jeddah, a campaign calling for his release is growing louder around the world. By: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours Staff Reporter, The Star, Canada
Amnesty International has spearheaded the international effort in support of Badawi, collecting over 83,500 signatures to date in an online petition calling on the Saudi authorities to release the 32-year-old blogger.
Politicians, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens have also gotten involved, organizing protests and vigils, and taking to social media to voice their support.
Some have even asked Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to personally intervene in the case. “Dear King Salman,” human rights activist Bianca Jagger wrote on Twitter, “I appeal to you. . . to #FreeRaifBadawi.”
“It’s like a snowball,” Elham Manea, the Badawi family spokesperson, told the Star. “Right now, we don’t seem to be able to control all the activities that are being done in support and in solidarity with Raif Badawi.”
Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes — to be delivered over 20 weeks — for criticizing Saudi clerics on his blog. He was also fined about $290,000.
He received 50 lashes on Jan. 9, but his weekly floggings have since been postponed.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and the couple’s three children fled Saudi Arabia after his arrest, and have sought refuge in Sherbrooke, Que.
Earlier this week, the Badawi family reported it had reliable information that members of the Saudi religious establishment were pressuring the penal court to retry Raif for apostasy, a charge that carries a death sentence by beheading.
Saudi Arabia beheaded 83 people in 2014, the most in the last five years.
“It seems to be like a witch-hunt. Those who are against him belong to this religious establishment whom Raif continuously and for good reasons criticized,” Manea said.
Manea said that while the global campaign to free Badawi has built important momentum, the family is ready to take additional measures to secure his release should his retrial go ahead.
She would not elaborate on what those other steps would be.
“Let’s just hope that this chapter will be closed. The objective is to get him out, not to antagonize the situation.”