Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012, simply for expressing his ideas – he took to his keyboard and started his own website. He has been in prison for nearly five years, serving a ten-year sentence, and he has also been sentenced to 1,000 lashes. He has been flogged in public 50 times for exercising his right to freedom of expression and he is awaiting 950 more lashes.
This week, Doughty Street International, in collaboration with English PEN and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), hosted a breakfast meeting focusing on Raif’s case and freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia. We were joined by Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is a co-founder of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom, an author and activist. She lives under asylum in Canada and is visiting the UK to urge renewed calls for Badawi’s release on the eve of the five-year anniversary of his arrest. Her powerful speech can be read below.
Speech by Ensaf Haidar: Doughty Street Chambers, Wednesday 17 May 2017
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured to be among you in this important gathering.
Five years have passed while my husband, Raif Badawi, is in the cold prison cells in Saudi Arabia. For five years, we have hoped every day tirelessly - five continuous years of waiting. The burning and painful questions, when my children ask ‘when will dad come back’? Or "Mom, I read that the criminals go to jail, is my father a criminal?" By God, what should I answer?
Today I carry a message from my husband and my three children who have been deprived of their father for exercising a natural right to express his opinion. I bring you a message of hope that one day, I will see my husband, Raif Badawi, standing among you on this platform, to talk to you about freedom and human rights, to tell you how freedom cannot be incarcerated, flogged, or executed. No matter how hard some try.
I also carry a message of determination: A determined Saudi woman, standing here, and saying that a peaceful transition in Saudi Arabia is possible. With this new generation, the generation of globalisation, the Internet, and blogs; ideas can no longer be prevented or blocked. It is a new change, a new revolution, from Morocco to Jakarta, young people today will determine the future and we must support and stand by them. Thus, your role here.. is in participating in this change.
Raif Badawi's message can be summed up in the following: The peaceful expression of opinion and thought is a non-negotiable human right, which is the right of all human beings with no exception.
However, the real prisoners are those who can defend freedom but do not.
Yes, I’ve talked a lot about Raif and I still am. I have recounted his sufferings at different events and places, and this has always been possible thanks to people like you. Today, five years have passed, and the future is unknown. The clock in my house has stopped ticking since the arrest of Raif. Part of us also lies in prison and our suffering is increasing day after day. But we haven’t lost hope yet, and this is thanks to you all. Your solidarity and acknowledgment are the real support. Your solidarity also with all the free thinkers, in the Arab and Muslim world in general, is what supports us even more. If the European governments are truly sincere in their fight against Islamic terrorism, the first thing they must do is to support the voices of anti-extremism within the Muslim world. As well as supporting all defenders of human rights, as is universally recognised, regardless of gender or belief.
Ladies and gentlemen, I said a lot, and I do not think there is anything else you do not know about our case, but in short, I would like to tell you that Raif's case is not a unique one.
It is a community case,
A state case.
A nation’s case.
Raif Badawi has carried this nation’s case in his heart.
He expressed this concern with his pen and in his words.
And since his words came from his heart, from his convictions of a possibility of a peaceful transition, his words were terrifying to those who gained from the status quo.
The change will not happen as long as we let fear paralyse us. Change will not happen if silence remains our approach.
One day my beloved country will have to abide by international human rights laws and treaties.
This dream will come true. I believe in that. Just as I am sure that Raif Badawi will stand among you, someday, here on this platform; and then I will have the right to rejoice; because the day of Raif's release will be a great day for freedom. It will be a celebration for all freedom supporters across the world.
Freedom of expression: is the air inhaled by every free thinker, it is the spark that ignites the flame of ideas and all forms of creativity.
During the past ages, people have been able to develop and innovate, through freedom of thought and expression. Freedom of expression does not tell us what is true and what is not, rather it teaches us to listen to everyone and accept all ideas, even those we disagree with. This is my husband's message; to write his words freely and to defend the right of others to do so.
Raif Badawi is a peaceful thinker, who believes in the human being, and the human freedom, to be, without the control of religion or state.
He is a symbol for those who wish to express their views in the Middle East and North Africa and to exercise their human rights in thought, religion and expression.
He did not call for a revolution. All he called for, was a firm conviction that change is possible, and peaceful transition is necessary, in his beloved country.
Raif has not lost hope, but he is mentally and physically suffering from this unjust sentence. I can tell you that he is fine and very optimistic, but I will be lying. His mental health is worsening. So I beg you for more mobilisation and solidarity. What frightens every detainee is to be forgotten by the supporters of freedom.
Dear Friends, Raif called for restricting the authority of religious police. He called for women's rights to be guaranteed and for their right to participate in politics and in driving.
He called for more freedoms in art, music and creativity. He called for personal freedoms of all citizens and to respect the freedom of belief and expression.
Thanks to Raif there are many voices in Saudi Arabia, today, calling for the same rights, and the change is happening… so why continue detaining Raif? When I explained to my children what their father was calling for, and why he was in prison, they said to me, "Then our father is guilty of calling for freedom of opinion and expression." Yes, he is so; there is no truer description of this: "guilty of calling for freedom of opinion and expression."
Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention and for your unconditional and unlimited support. Five years of detention and daily suffering are enough. We hope we all hear good news... soon.
Translated by Bayan Abughaida