An interview with Ensaf Haider, wife of the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raef Badawi.
Saudi Arabian blogger and editor of a liberal website, Raef Badawi, was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah.
Over a year later, in July 2013, Badawi was convicted under Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law and sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years and three months in prison.
He was found guilty of “insulting Islam”, “founding a liberal website” and “adopting liberal thought”. He was also convicted of “insulting religious symbols” and criticising the religious police and officials calling for gender segregation in the Shura Council. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.
It’s startling, isn’t it? Even when you already know what Saudi Arabia is like? He was “convicted” of founding a liberal website…as if that’s any kind of crime in the first place.
Why did Raef decide to set up Free Saudi Liberals?
For Raef, liberalism is an intellectual project, which aspired to achieve an official status and to represent Saudi liberals on the ground and to fight injustice wherever it exists. This was the idea in 2008 when Raef first set up the Free Saudi Liberals website as a platform for this project to take shape.
Can you talk about the aims and objectives of the ‘day of liberalism’ conference that Raef was organising? Why was it important to him?
The idea for the ‘day of liberalism’ conference came from the belief, held by Raef and by Saudi liberals specifically, as well as others in the Gulf more generally, that there is a need for our voice to be heard in the international and local communities. It also accused the opponents of liberals of distorting the image of liberalism by claiming that this thought leads to degeneration, vice and so on.
And so that’s why the bosses decided to punish him.
How did you find out that Raef may face apostasy charges in court? What were your reactions? What are the legal next steps? Are you in contact with his lawyer?
I am in regular contact with his lawyer, and that is how I found out. We are currently waiting for the Court of Appeal to make a decision on his case. I consider Raef’s trial as an inquisition, just like the ones that took place during the European Dark Ages. To kill a person just for their opinion, that is the real crime.
It does indeed seem astonishingly medieval.
Do you believe the legal consequences faced by Raif and other prisoners of conscious in the country will work to deter or frighten others from engaging in similar activism?
No not at all, I believe that there is a will for freedom in the country that will not be deterred. When Raef heard the judge tell him ‘we will kill you’, Raef responded with a wide smile and the victory sign.
It makes me want to weep.