Raif Badawi exclusive: Saudi blogger 'moved to tears by campaign to free him', wife reveals

Ensaf Haidar said she was surprised at her husband's emotional reaction when he heard that The Independent was campaigning for his release

Chris Green,Cahal Milmo
Sunday 25 January 2015 20:20 GMT
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, at a vigil in Montreal on 13 January
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, at a vigil in Montreal on 13 January (AFP/Getty)

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger whose punishment of 1,000 lashes has led to an international outcry, is mentally “very strong” and taking great heart from the campaign to free him, his wife has told The Independent.

In an email exchange, Ensaf Haidar said she remains hopeful that her husband will be released soon, despite being sentenced to 10 years in prison and 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks for criticising the country’s clerics through his liberal blog. He is still recovering from his first round of flogging.

Ms Haidar, who now lives in Canada after being forced to flee Saudi Arabia with the couple’s three children, said she last spoke to her husband about five days ago over the phone, when he told her he was still “a little bit sick” but generally “fine”.

She added that she had started to tell him about the international attention his case was attracting – but was surprised at his emotional reaction when he heard that The Independent was campaigning for his release. “I want to thank you for supporting my husband,” she wrote. “For many years, one of Raif’s dreams was to write an article for the The Independent.

“When I told him that The Independent wrote on its front page ‘Free Raif Badawi’, he was crying and he told me about his dream. So many, many thanks.”

The second round of the blogger’s punishment, ordered to be conducted in public on successive Fridays, was delayed for a second week last week after the Saudi authorities said his wounds from the first 50 strokes had not healed sufficiently.

His flogging on 9 January in the city of Jeddah led to an outpouring of international condemnation, including demands from Washington and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights for the punishment to be rescinded. In an open letter provided to The Independent, 18 Nobel laureates last week wrote to their Saudi academic counterparts urging them to add their voices to those calling for the 31-year-old dissident’s release.

Mr Badawi was arrested in 2012 after writing articles criticising Saudi Arabia’s powerful clerics on his blog advocating the liberalisation of the country’s austere Wahhabist system. The father-of-three was charged with breaking the oil-rich kingdom’s technology laws and insulting Islam, although his supporters argue his only crime was to challenge his country’s Sunni religious leaders.

He was sentenced in 2013 to seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes – a punishment which was then increased on appeal last year to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. He was also fined the equivalent of £176,000.

His cause has been taken up around the world by governments and organisations including Amnesty International. It was reported on Friday that the Saudi authorities had agreed to halt the flogging and reduce Mr Badawi’s sentence but this has yet to be confirmed.

The death of King Abdullah in the early hours of Friday morning has provoked fresh scrutiny of his kingdom’s human rights record and relationship with the West. The UK Government’s decision to lower flags on public buildings in his honour was criticised as excessive and inappropriate by some MPs.

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