Jailed Saudi blogger could get pardon, wife told /Link
OTTAWA—Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi could receive a royal pardon from Saudi Arabia’s ruler, according to European parliamentarians who have told his wife he could soon be freed.
However Badawi’s fate is up to the whims of a capricious autocratic regime, as are those of five other political prisoners who are the focus of an all-party advocacy effort Thursday on Parliament Hill.
Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar shared a stage with MPs and former justice minister and human rights advocate Irwin Cotler to press the case of Badawi and the others.
“These are prisoners of conscience, political prisoners,” said Cotler. “I’ve learned it’s a combination of effective public advocacy and effective private diplomacy that secures their release.”
Haidar told reporters she went to Austria more than two weeks ago to meet with European parliamentarians who had travelled to Saudi Arabia and attempted to see her husband.
Saudi authorities barred the European politicians from seeing him, but told them Badawi is healthy and on the list for a royal pardon, a sliver of hope for his wife, but one they advised her to keep secret, she said.
Haidar said the news has since leaked out in Europe so she felt she could discuss it, even though she has not been able to confirm if he is, indeed, on a list, or when it might be made public.
Although he’s been in jail for five-and-a-half years in a prison for those whose verdict is final, Haidar says the Saudi government continues to assure the family that Raif’s “file is not closed.”
She said the Saudi practice is to issue criminal pardons before Ramadan, but rarely does it issue pardons in “human rights” cases.
“I see hope,” she said in an interview later.
“But now he has lost hope; he doesn’t believe it.”
Arrested for having founded and written a liberal blog, Badawi was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of more than $325,000 for insulting religious authorities.
“Why is my husband still in jail in Saudi Arabia?” asked Haidar, who noted that the kind of rights he blogged about are finally being realized in Saudi Arabia, meaning he committed “no crime.”
The shift in power in Saudi Arabia, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promises reforms, such as allowing women to drive, may have improved Badawi’s prospects for release, said Cotler. Now that the five-year mark of his sentence has passed, Cotler has filed clemency applications for him under Saudi law and under Sharia law.
Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, but his wife and children live in Sherbrooke, Que., and have campaigned constantly for his release. She said their children, now aged 10, 13, and 14, only remember their father through photos.
Cotler said individuals such as Badawi and Wang Bingzhang, who has spent 15 years in solitary confinement in China, must not be allowed to languish in prison for exercising or advocating fundamental freedoms Canadians take for granted.
Wang, a medical doctor who earned a PhD in 1979 from McGill University, married a Canadian woman and has three Canadian children. After living in Canada, he advocated for China to loosen restrictions on political freedoms, and founded the overseas Chinese democracy movement, said Cotler, although Wang never gave up his Chinese citizenship.
His daughter, Ti-Anna Wang, 28, said she fears her father’s case, which Cotler called one of the most nightmarish prison ordeals, has been forgotten, while his “mental and physical health have been on a devastating decline.”
She first came to Ottawa to advocate for her father’s release when she was 13, with Cotler. “I know with the passage of time, changes in government and other new urgent demands on our attention mean my father’s case has fallen by the wayside, but my family has not forgotten him.”
“I plead with the Canadian leadership to make every effort to reunite our family.”
Wang was abducted in 2002 while travelling in Vietnam near the Chinese border, likely betrayed by people he thought were friends to his cause, taken across the border, where he was sentenced to life after a “sham trial,” said Cotler.
He called Wang’s confinement in isolation in Shaoguan, north of Guangzhou, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just travelled, with no release in sight “the worst imprisonment ever visited on any Chinese political prisoner.”
The two women pleaded for public support, with Cotler acknowledging the efforts of governments and parties of all stripes, saying the Liberal government has also supported their cause.
The other political prisoners highlighted by Cotler and Conservative MPs Garnett Genuis and Peter Kent, Green leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Judy Sgro and NDP leader Hélène Laverdière include:
Sun Qian, a Canadian Falun Gong practitioner, imprisoned for the past eight months in China
Leopoldo Lopez, the democratic opposition leader jailed in Venezuela, whose family, Cotler says, originates from Fredericton
Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian permanent resident and computer programmer, imprisoned in Iran, who has a sister in Vancouver
Ayatollah Boroujerdi, an advocate of religious tolerance, imprisoned in Iran, who is described as the “Nelson Mandela of Iran.”
“Each is a human rights role model,” Conservative MP Peter Kent said in the Commons. “We stand, today, in witness to their heroism and unjust imprisonment and call for their release.”
(@)Tonda MacCharles - Ottawa Bureau reporter
Published on 07 Dec 2017 at 10:42PM