Editorial: Let's keep fighting for Badawi

Editorial: Let's keep fighting for Badawi

The imprisonment and flogging of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi has galvanized people the world over — but especially in Quebec, where his wife and three young children have sought refuge. At the same time, the Quebec government’s condemnation of his brutal treatment and demands for his release seem to have struck a nerve with the repressive kingdom.

1021 photo reimaginedMONTREAL GAZETTE EDITORIAL BOARD

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Canada fired off a letter to Quebec politicians telling them to butt out of the country’s internal affairs. The letter, dating from March but made public this week, was evidently a response to the National Assembly’s unanimous adoption in February of a motion calling for Badawi’s freedom, and other measures to support for the imprisoned blogger. Lawyers in the province have teamed up to advocate on his behalf.  Premier Philippe Couillard appeared alongside Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haider, who has been vocal in stirring up opposition to her husband’s cruel sentence. He faces 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes after peacefully advocating religious tolerance and the relaxing of strict Islamic laws in the kingdom.

The same letter was also sent to the House of Commons in Ottawa. Around the same time, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry took umbrage at the global mobilization over Badawi’s case, blaming the media for maligning the country.

All this shows that the international pressure is getting under Saudi Arabia’s skin. That’s a reason to continue — especially with Badawi’s fate so uncertain. After receiving the first 50 lashes Jan. 9, weekly floggings have since been postponed. But Saudi Arabia’s high court has ordered a new trial, which Badawi’s wife fears could see his charges changed from “insulting Islam” to the even more serious apostasy, and result in his execution. This is a crucial moment.

Badawi’s case has shone a light on Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record. It is a country where there is no freedom of conscience, no freedom of religion, no freedom of expression. Badawi’s own lawyer has been sentenced to 15 years in jail simply for defending him. Women aren’t allowed to drive or appear in public uncovered. Adulterers are stoned; enemies of the state are beheaded. All this puts a lie to the ambassador’s claim that criticism of Saudi Arabia over human rights is groundless.

Saudi Arabia has only itself to blame for the fact Badawi has become an international cause célèbre. It displayed astounding hypocrisy in issuing a statement condemning the Charlie Hebdo killings the same day it dragged Badawi from his cell to be whipped.

Quebec is showing no sign it will waver on defending this prisoner of conscience. Ottawa has also spoken out strongly: former Foreign Affairs Minister John Bairdwas quick to call for clemency; his successor Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons Wednesday that diplomatic discussions have taken place in Canada and in Saudi Arabia. Parliament also unanimously endorsed Liberal MP Marc Garneau’s motion calling for Badawi’s liberation.

This is welcome. Too often, because of dependence on its oil and strategic considerations, Canada and the rest of the world have ignored Saudi Arabian rights violations.

Words are important, but more robust action must be taken, especially given Canada’s plan to allow the sale of light-armoured vehicles to the kingdom. If this sale goes ahead, the federal government should use it as leverage to help Badawi.

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