A 10-year prison sentence for blogging? Meet Raif Badawi

Picture this: being passionate about justice and equality, you start a blog. Disillusioned with the socio-political reality of your own country you take to the internet and express your concerns about the religious authorities/senior religious figures. You write your thoughts and then bam!

You’re taken in for questioning…

You’re forbidden to leave the country and your wife’s bank accounts are frozen.

You’re accused of insulting your religion, accused of apostasy (and so your wife’s family later want a divorce).

As a Muslim, you’re accused of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and thrown in prison. Your original sentence is then increased and you’re eventually condemned to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes…

Sound surreal? Sound like an eerie film plot? No, this is the story of Saudi Arabian writer and activist Raif Badawi. Raif is currently in prison for writing a blog, criticising senior religious figures. He’s accused of insulting Islam and leaving his faith – a “crime” which comes with a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Raif has received 50 lashes and 17th June 2017 marked the fifth anniversary of his imprisonment. Raif’s wife Ensaf and three children are now living in Canada, having been granted political asylum, yet they want Raif back – free and safe. However, for being a Saudi citizen and speaking his mind in a theocratic country based on an extreme, toxic and Medieval form of Islam with no consent of private faith and free will in religious matters, Raif is now paying a heavy price. His sons and daughters long to see their dad again and his wife is carrying on his fight for freedom.

Take a look at the poem their 12 year-old son Doudi recently wrote:

 The Dream

A dream wakes me up every night
I wake up crying, feeling longing and desperate
I dream of you,
Father
I dream that you’re hugging me, kissing me and your tears filling me with love. Telling me that you love me, and I cry for joy. I can’t believe I’m with you, touching you, holding your face, kissing you, daddy daddy, you are with me and we are close again
How many years has it been?
I was only seven years old when we left you and left our country, Saudi Arabia
I didn’t know why we left you back then
I remember you hugging me, telling me goodbye, and asking me to be strong for my mom
I didn’t understand
I didn’t understand that you went for prison and didn’t understand the reason for that
But I know what is it like to miss you
To miss your love
Your company
Your smile
At school when the teacher asked us to talk about our families, I didn’t know what to say to them
My father is Raif Badawi, a writer and he’s Saudi Arabian. He went to jail because he loves his country and its people. He voiced an opinion that many people in Saudi Arabia agree with. But today my father is paying the price
My father is in jail because he loves his country.

A dream wakes me up every night
I see you in my dreams. I wake up. And the dream turns into imagination. The feel of your embrace was just my imagination
And I cry, feeling sad, feeling a longing
I pray for God, please bring back my father
I pray with love
With grief
May He answer my prayers.

Doudi ‘Trad’ Raid Badawi, aged 12
(written with the help of his mother, Ensaf Haider)

Incredibly, incredibly sad. Raif is not the first prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia and he won’t be the last but we must keep on his and his family’s fight.

Credit - European Parliament.jpg

Ensaf Haider holding a photo of her husband Raif (Image credit: European Parliament – CC)

What can we do to help?

It’s really important to not let Raif’s case go silent. Raif needs to know that he’s not alone and the Saudi authorities also need to know that we’re not going to let his case go. Pressure needs to be continuously built, calling on the authorities to release Raif, in addition to public awareness to keep the issue in the spotlight and increase support.

Here’s a suggested list of actions courtesy of Amnesty International: 

1. Social media campaigning

Related Twitter accounts:

  • @Raif_Badawi (Raif’s account managed by his wife Ensaf)
  • @Miss9afi (Ensaf’s account)
  • @BorisJohnson (UK foreign minister’s)
  • @UKinSaudiArabia (UK embassy in Saudi Arabia)
  • @SaudiEmbassyUK (Saudi Arabian embassy in UK)

Suggested Tweets:

  • @KingSalman blogging is not a crime! We urge you to #FreeRaif today!
  • @Raif_Badawi has already spent 5 years in prison. Just for blogging. Tell @KingSalman that’s 5 years too many – he must #FreeRaif now!
  • Blogging can be costly in Saudi Arabia & @Raif_Badawi has paid the highest price: 10 yrs behind bars, 1000 lashes. @KingSalman: #FreeRaif!
  • @BorisJohnson: Help @raif_badawi see his family again – Call for his freedom today! #FreeRaif!
  • @Raif_badawi deserves freedom and dignity. 5 years is already too many – @UKinSaudiArabia should call for his release #FreeRaif

2. Contact Saudi authorities directly

You can send cards and/or letters to the Saudi Arabian embassy in your country or even give them a call.

Here are the details for London:

Mail:
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz
Ambassador to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
LONDON
W1J 5DZ

Telephone: 0207 917 3000 or 0207 917 3288

Tweet, write – do whatever you can to let Raif and his family know that they are not alone. Even more importantly, let the Saudi authorities that we’re here and we stand with Raif. Freedom of religion, freedom of belief and freedom of expression are universal human rights. It’s about time that Saudi Arabia joined the 21st century and started recognising these rights…

Peace, salam ♡

Credits, acknowledgements and further information:

To find out more about Raif visit:

Campaign materials: Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Poem courtesy of Amnesty International (UK, 2017)
Image credits: Amnesty Finland (CC) (featured image)

20-offpurplebouquets

Death Penalty Still Looms for Mauritanian Blogger Who Spoke Out Against Caste-Based Discrimination

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“No to slavery” – from the website of Moroccan legal expert Ibn Kafka where he states: “Where Mauritania may have suffered injustice throughout history it also exemplifies resistance and human dignity”

A Mauritanian blogger has been sentenced to death by Nouadhibou Criminal Court after writing a blog post criticising the use of Islam to justify a caste system that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’kheitir, whose father is prefect for Nouadhibou, the economic capital in the south of the country, is a 29-year-old trained accountant. They are part of a caste group known as les forgerons (the “forger cast”), one that was originally made up of blacksmiths.

He has appealed the conviction, which dates back to 2014. Writing for the website Chezvlane on 25 December 2014, he said:

For those who dare to invent fake hadith and attribute them to the Prophet (peace be upon him), no morals and no religion can stop them from interpreting an article written by a simple normal young man — an inexperienced one at that. They won’t spare any effort in stirring up collective Muslim discontent to serve their interests. That’s how they claimed that the forgerons blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) in an article one of them wrote. It was just like when they claimed that it was a forgeron who was responsible for the Prophet’s teeth falling out during the Battle of Mount Uhud.

Bearing that in mind, I’d like to confirm here the following:

1. I have not, consciously or unconsciously, blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) and I will never do so. In actual fact, I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world who shows him greater respect than myself (PBUH).

2. All the facts and accounts I cited in my previous article were historically accurate. These accounts can of course be interpreted literally and superficially or looked at more closely and deeply.

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Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, published on ODH Mauritanie

On 21 April 2016, the Court of Appeal in Nouadhibou confirmed his sentence to death after re-examining the case. The accused is no longer considered to be an apostate but simply a non-believer.

Following this re-examination of the accusations against him, human rights campaigners in Mauritania remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will dismiss the death sentence and announce a more lenient sentence.

The Senegalese website Setal recalled the turn of events:

This Thursday, the Court of Appeal did not follow the accusation which called for his death sentence to be upheld. Lawyers are happy with the turn of events, even if for them it’s clearly not enough. It’s been two years and three months since Mohamed Cheikh ould Mkheitir was arrested for a simple article posted on the Internet. This article was judged as being blasphemous towards the Prophet and Islam. This shocked the most conservative section of Mauritanian society who at the time called for him to be sentenced to death.

This is the most severe sentence possible for the blogger — a severe sentence that many believe was issued due mostly to internal political strife. In a 26 April 2016 post on the Amnesty International website, human rights journalist and campaignerSabine Cessout quoted a colleague (who remains anonymous) who commented on the case:

The whole affair reveals “the internal politics…with a tribunal which wants to fund Salafis, a spiraling trend in our country, as throughout the whole Arab-Muslim world”

International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) quoted Fatimata Mbaye, President of l’Association Mauritanienne des Droits Humains (AMDH) (The Mauritanian Association for Human Rights), former vice-president of the IFHR and advocate for anti-slavery campaigners speaking on the issue:

This sentence — the first for “apostasy” in Mauritania since Independence — signifies a step backwards in terms of tolerance and shows just how much issues of cast, religion, slavery and therefore democracy are taboos in Mauritania. We’re noticing society and politics is becoming less tolerant towards voices of dissent on these issues.

After the post was published, religious extremists sparked public calls for the blogger to be hanged. The Senegalese website Leral described the public sentiment which had been stirred up in Mauritania against the accused:

A year ago thousands of Mauritanians took the streets of Nouakchoutt, Naouadihbou and elsewhere demanding he be hung, plain and simple. Some of these had read the incriminating article — others had never even seen it. The Republican President, in front of a crowd of protesters which had grouped in front of the entrance to the palace, declared: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for gathering in such numbers here to condemn the crime committed by a individual who is against Islam, the religion of our people, our country, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which as I’ve said in the past and I’m reaffirming today, is not secular and never will be… I assure you that as a result, the Government and I myself will stop at nothing to protect and defend this religion and its sacred image…”. This declaration made by the President, those of other different political parties along with the protests and fatwas demonstrated their reasoning.

The 2006 France Human Rights Prize winner Aminetou Mint Noctar also drew outrage from extremists after she expressed support for the blogger, some of whom issued a fatwa against her. Noctar is also the 2010 winner of the medal of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour. According to the website Africa News, Noctar was the first Mauritanian woman to be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for her commitment and work towards human rights.

On the website aw41k.com, Yehdhih Ould Dahi, head of the radical Islamist movement “Ahbab Errassoul” (Friends of the Prophet) condemned Noctar for defending the blogger:

May this villain who’s defending Mkheitir, saying that he’s a prisoner of conscience and demanding he be released so he can go back home to his wife, be cursed by Allah, the Angels and all people. This woman compares the Friends of The Prophet to members of Boko Haram and Takfiris because they call for the Prophet to be respected and honoured. Today, with the blessing of Allah, I declare her to be an apostate for having tempered the outrage in defence of the honour of the Prophet. She’s an infidel and it this therefore lawful to seize her life and assets. Those who kill or poke out her eyes will be rewarded by Allah.

Amid the public vitriol around Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’kheitir’s case, his life hangs in the balance. For now, he will continue to languish in prison.

credit

Article originally published via Global Voices