Saudi blogger reportedly released after decade in jail

– Saudi blogger and activist Raif Badawi, whose conviction sparked widespread international outrage, was released on Friday after a decade in prison for criticizing the country’s conservative religious establishment, his wife in Quebec confirmed.

Ensaf Haidar, who lives with the couple’s three children in the city of Sherbrooke, tweeted that the 2015 winner of Europe’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights “is free.” A spokesman for the family said they had no other comments.

Badawi’s sentence expired on February 28 and Montreal-based human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, who represents Badawi internationally, said last month that his release from prison had been expected sometime in March.

Cotler, a former federal justice minister and founder of the Center for Human Rights, had warned that Badawi was still facing a 10-year travel ban, a media ban and a fine imposed at the time of the verdict.

“We are talking about a kind of prison without walls where he is deprived of travel for the next 10 years,” Cotler said at the time. “It would be to continue the punishment outside prison he received in prison – the severe pain of being deprived of being with his wife and children.”

Badawi was jailed in 2012 and sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals – now about $ 340,000 – for criticizing the country’s priests in his writings.

Most of the whipping was stopped, but he eventually received 50 lashes in front of hundreds of spectators in the city of Jiddah in 2015. Badawi’s feet and hands were shackled during the whipping but his face was visible.

The punishment provoked outrage and condemnation from all over the , including from many of Saudi Arabia’s allies.

Sakharov winner

The awarded Badawi the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Human Rights in 2015, and the US State Department and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Kingdom to overturn the ruling.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to and stopped issuing work visas to in 2015 after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister described the Badawi decision as “medieval” and said that the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family presided over a “dictatorship”.

Last year, both Canada’s and the Senate called on the immigration minister to grant Badawi Canadian citizenship, but that has not happened yet. However, his wife has Canadian citizenship.

Badawi’s sister Samar was also imprisoned in 2018 in a crackdown on women activists who had peacefully advocated greater freedoms, according to rights groups. She was released last year.

Canadian criticism of her case led to the Saudi expelling the Canadian ambassador and withdrawing its own ambassador. It also stopped flights from its national and ordered Saudi students in Canada to return home.

Samar Badawi and others had criticized Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws, which gave , fathers, and in some cases a woman’s own son control over her ability to obtain a passport and travel. They had also advocated for women’s right to drive. Both restrictions have since been lifted.

Samar Badawi, who was also facing a travel ban, first came to prominence when she requested that Saudi courts remove her father as her legal guardian because he prevented her from marrying potential suitors. Years later, she spoke out in defense of her brother Raif.


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