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Canada - Saudi Arabia: AI Canada open letter to Prime Minister Harper to intervene in the case of Raif Badawi

    January 29, 2015

    The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
    Prime Minister of Canada
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A2

    January 28, 2015


    Dear Prime Minister,

    We are writing this Open Letter with an urgent request that you intervene in the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger and human rights defender who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison and other penalties and restrictions, simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression.  As you will know, there is a strong Canadian connection to the case because Canada has, very commendably, welcomed his wife Ensaf Haidar and their three young children to this country as refugees.

    Mr. Badawi’s case has attracted considerable and growing concern across Canada and around the world this month, with the decision of Saudi officials to begin on 9 January, the series of 20 episodes of lashing, fifty lashes each time, on a weekly basis.  The two subsequent sessions, scheduled for 16 and 23 January have been suspended for medical reasons.  However, Mr. Badawi still faces the agonizing prospect of being flogged a further 950 times, over nineteen weeks.  The cruelty and injustice of that penalty, combined with the injustice of Mr. Badawi’s arrest and imprisonment, has touched the hearts of Canadian women, men and young people across Canada.  The outpouring has been unprecedented. Amnesty International has quickly gathered 125,000 signatures from Canadians on a petition calling for his release.  That number mounts daily. Worldwide in excess of one million people have signed petitions.

    While Mr. Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, the fact that his wife and children reside here provides a strong basis and, we believe, a responsibility for the Canadian government to intervene actively and press for Mr. Badawi to be freed.  In addition to the many human rights concerns that should motivate and inspire Canadian government action there is the very real and compassionate desire and right of Ms. Haidar and her children to be reunited here in Canada with their husband and father.  It is fitting and appropriate for there to be a concerted request to the Saudi Arabian government from the Canadian government, asking that he be freed for that humanitarian reason.

    Given the compelling human rights and humanitarian concerns at stake, given the Canadian connection to this family and given the rapidly rising numbers of Canadians who have signed petitions and spoken out in other ways for Mr. Badawi’s freedom; we are calling on you to become personally involved in the important effort to secure his release from prison.

    We have appreciated the growing number of interventions from your officials including by Ambassador Bennett, Minister Paradis and Minister Baird.  We welcomed the fact that Minister Baird met with Prince Turki al-Faisal at the World Economic Forum last week.  We believe it is both essential and constructive for that pressure to be sustained and to increase.  The next step for Canada to take, to demonstrate the strong feelings about the case right across the country, is for the exchange with Saudi officials to happen at the highest levels of government, through your personal involvement.  We understand that it is exceptional  for the Prime Minister to become involved in advocating for an individual imprisoned abroad,  but we are firmly convinced that this is precisely such an exceptional case and that Canadians expect and look to you to take meaningful and decisive action.

    We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you or your officials to discuss this further.

    Alex Neve         
    Secretary General        
    Amnesty International Canada 

    Béatrice Vaugrante
    Directrice Générale
    Amnistie internationale Canada


    For further information contact John Tackaberry, Media Relations
    (613)744-7667 #236


    Please Note: Ensaf Haider, Raif Badawi’s wife who is a refugee living in Sherbrooke, Quebec, will address a rally on Parliament Hill today 29 January at 2 p.m. and will be at a protest outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy, 201 Sussex Drive at 3 p.m.