#FreeRaif – Vigil outside the Saudi embassy

CAAT joined the author and activist Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, outside the Saudi Arabian embassy to call for his immediate release. Lucie Kinchin reports.

Ensaf Haidar and two CAAT activists hold a banner which reads #FreeRaif Stop Arming Saudi Repression in front of the Saudi embassy

On May 17th, activists from Campaign Against Arms Trade joined English PEN and Reporters Without Borders in welcoming author and activist Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, at a vigil outside the Saudi embassy. We called for Raif’s immediate release, and for an end to UK sales of arms to Saudi Arabia: while the British government continues to allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia, it is complicit in the Saudi regime’s human rights abuses.

After he started a website called Free Saudi Liberals to encourage political debate in his country, Raif was charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. He was imprisoned in 2012, sentenced to 10 years and 1000 lashes. In 2015 he was publically flogged, and his health has worsened since: his wife has asserted that he would not survive another flogging.

Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife, spoke of her “five continuous years of waiting”, and of her children wanting to know when their father will come back to them, explaining to the crowd that “part of us also lies in prison.” She said she was looking forward to the day when Raif can stand at a podium and show that “freedom cannot be incarcerated, flogged or executed.”

Activists at the vigil outside the Saudi embassy. Some hold placards with Raif Badawi's face on with the hashtage #FreeRaif

Reporters Without Borders stated that Raif is “a symbol of suppression of criticism in Saudi Arabia”, but Raif’s case is just one of many abuses of human rights in the country. Raif’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair is now also in prison after speaking out. While the UK supplies arms to Saudi Arabia, it is complicit in these abuses. To try to maintain good sales relationships, the UK fails to speak out on human rights issues. A prime example is the UK anti-death penalty advocacy strategy: this does not apply in Saudi Arabia, in spite of Saudi being one of the world’s most prolific executioners. The tendency to ignore the violent reality of repression in Saudi Arabia has led to some astonishing hypocrisies, such as the British government’s support for Saudi’s election to the UN Human Rights Council.

The British government’s tacit support for Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses is widely condemned by the British public: two thirds of the UK are against arms sales to Saudi, and over 159,000 people signed a petition to Theresa May in March 2017 urging the UK government to stop arming Saudi.

The current court case taken by Campaign Against Arms Trade against the UK government over the legality of arms sales to Saudi Arabia is yet to have a result.

Want to show your solidarity?

Show your support for Raif and his family by sharing a photo of yourself with a message of solidarity – the aim is to have 1000 photos, one for each of the 1000 lashes in Raif’s sentence.

Via Twitter:

Please share your photo with the hashtag #FreeRaif and tag @englishpen

Via Facebook:

Please tag English PEN Writers at Risk in your photos, and use the hashtag #FreeRaif https://www.facebook.com/English-PEN-Writers-at-Risk-78698626750/

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