Photo by Jake Bleiberg
Raif Badawi's children miss him. It's been several years since they were separated from the Saudi blogger, whose imprisonment and punishment of 1,000 lashes has made headlines around the world, and Najwa, 11, Tirad, 10, and Myriam, 7 are adjusting to life as refugees in Sherbrooke, Quebec."They are children and they are really joyful children, but they don't really understand the sentence against him," said Ensaf Haider, their mother, through an interpreter on Tuesday. "So they keep asking, 'When is daddy coming home?'"
The answer, so far at least, is not anytime soon. But public pressure is mounting on behalf of the writer and activist who was jailed three years ago and subsequently sentenced by a Saudi Arabian court to 10 years in prison, a fine of roughly $266,600 and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. Activists had planned to present a petition to UK Prime Minister David Cameron this week urging him to intervene.On Tuesday, a crowd of people gathered in Montreal's Place des Arts, to mark the launch of the French translation of "1,000 Coups de Fouet" or "1,000 Lashes", a book collecting the writings of Badawi."Societies around the world and human rights organisations are calling for the Arab regimes to enact greater reforms in the field of freedom of expression," read Quebec actress Geneviève Rochette from an article Badawi published in August 2010. "You are a human being, so you have the right to speak and feel as you see fit … you have the right to be liberal or Islamist," he wrote.The book reading came on the eve of the third anniversary of Badawi's imprisonment for helping found "Free Saudi Liberals," a website that included content critical of the country's religious establishment. Badawi received the first 50 lashes of his punishment in February. His wounds from the beating were so severe that doctors determined that he was unfit to receive the second set the following week. Badawi remains in poor health and has not been beaten since, but the Saudi Arabian government has offered no sign of clemency.
Related: Imprisoned Saudi Arabian Blogger Raif Badawi Gets Geneva Summit's 'Courage' AwardLast week, in response to international criticism regarding the Badawi case, the Saudi Arabian embassy in London issued a statement that denounced foreign "meddling" in its internal affairs."The Kingdom will not tolerate such outrageous, ridiculous interference in its sovereign criminal justice system," the statement read, noting the case "was administered according to legitimate Saudi statutes by a respected Saudi judge whose task is to execute the laws of the country."Amnesty International, which helped publish "1,000 Lashes" and organized the reading in Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles, has been advocating for Badawi's release and calls his punishment abhorrent and criminal. "He sits there every week not knowing if the coming Friday will be day when he will be taken again to the public square to be flogged and degraded in front of gathering crowds," Amnesty International's Saudi Arabia Researcher Sevag Kechichian told VICE News in an email."This severely harsh punishment, including the cruelly abhorrent and internationally prohibited act of flogging, all because he founded a website and encouraged online discussion. No one should doubt that he is a prisoner of conscience and the only acceptable outcome is his immediate and unconditional release and reunification with his family."Haidar, Badawi's wife, and their three children have been living as refugees in Quebec since last fall. Before arriving in Canada, they spent eight months in Egypt and three years in Lebanon, fleeing threats from extremists.
Speaking to media at the reading, Haidar said that she was pleased by the Quebec government's decision last week to grant her husband a selection certificate, a first step in allowing him to come to Canada."I'm very happy about this because it will facilitate Raif coming to Quebec when he is free from jail, but I also hope that this puts more pressure on Canada, so that it gives its support and takes more action," Haidar told VICE News through a translator.The final authority to grant a person immigration or refugee status rests with the Canadian federal government and it has not yet taken any such action in this case.Along with advocating Badawi's release Amnesty International and other organizations are helping to support Haidar and her children. The German publisher of "1,000 Lashes," is giving the family higher-than-usual royalties from sales of the book and the Quebec City bookstore La Librairie du Quartier will donate four dollars to Amnesty International out of every 10 it makes selling the book.Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter: @jzbleiberg