Raif Badawi. A name which I picked up when I started engaging myself with the questions of Human rights, censorship and free speech. It was a catchy title which made me click on the link which carried Raif’s case. “Saudi Blogger to get 1000 lashes”. Coincidentally it was during the same time I started blogging. Given the rise in the number of satire websites and blogs, I first felt this too fell in the same criteria only to be proved true when I googled the keywords. “Blogger, lashes, 1000, Saudi Arabia”. Living in a country where lashes, lynching and honor killings happen almost everyday, the news didn’t come as a shocker; except the part where the crime was blogging and expressing dissent. I started reading more about Raif, his works and the condition of Human rights in Saudi Arabia. In the midst of this, a news headline appears where Raif received his ‘first installment of lashes‘.
The news was disheartening. I went on to follow the campaign aggressively on social media. It opened up the world of human rights for me, where the world’s advanced democracies maintain diplomatic relations with such an oppressive regime where writing is a crime! Many human rights organisations took up the issue with Ensaf Haider, the spouse of Raif Badawi lead the campaigns from the front. She co-founded the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom which has been campaigning internationally for the Raif’s release. This is one of the story of numerous political prisoners languishing in Saudi Arabia’s jails. Cases of juvenile prisoners like Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr have been imprisoned for participating in pro-democracy protests.
Meanwhile Raif went on to continue his struggle from the jail compound. Multiple dates were announced on to flog him again but were scrapped at the end. Raif went on to win many international awards and recognition in the following years. Notable ones among them being Netizen Prize of Reporters without Borders 2014 and Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, 2015 (awarded by the European Parliament). Raif’s case even brought a diplomatic showdown between Sweden and Saudi Arabia, when the foreign minister of Sweden openly condemned his flogging. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still remains adamant on it’s position of not heeding to such external political pressure from both state and non-state actors.
Raif’s struggle is not his own or his family’s. It’s the fight of the freethinkers around the world who make a stand against bigotry and fundamentalism pushed upon by religious institutions, non-state actors or even the state. Raif’s only crime was sparking a discussion on liberalism and secularism online through the portal Free Saudi Liberals. Worse, Raif’s lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair was sentenced for 15 years for being associated with Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) which allegedly ‘antagonizing international organisations against the kingdom’, relating to his engagement with international human rights mechanisms including the UN system and ‘incitement of public opinion against authorities’. Samar Badawi, a prominent human rights activist and incidentally the sister of Raif, too was arrested and questioned on multiple instances for raising the issue of Human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Ensaf Haider recalled what Raif once said on freedom of speech. “My husband once wrote that freedom of expression is the ‘air that any thinker breathes and the fuel that ignites the fire of his or her ideas’, and he was right. “This is why he is wasting away in jail today, and precisely why the world’s free writers should use their freedom of expression as a weapon in the war on oppression.” Nothing can be more precise than this to urge the freethinking community to support not just Raif’s cause but thousands of prisoners languishing in jails of different countries, whose only crime was expressing dissent against a religious or political establishment. After the release of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian cartoonist who was arrested and jailed for expressing dissent through cartoons and her activism; I now have hope of watching Raif and all those freethinkers and political prisoners locked behind bars to walk free. The day won’t be far if we citizens of various countries separated by invisible borders stand in solidarity against censorship and oppression. By holding our governments and religious institutions responsible of their actions which are oppressive, inhuman and anti-reason. That would be a fitting tribute to all those people who have stood with reason and sacrificed their lives throught the ages.
Raif’s opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion are published in this book (according to description on Amazon) 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think I’m yet to read the book but going by the reviews it must be a book worth giving a read.
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