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Letter to Foreign Minister Baird about Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia

    January 15, 2015

    The Honourable John Baird
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    125 Sussex Drive
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1A 0G2

    January 15, 2015

    Dear Minister Baird,

    Tomorrow, in front of the al-Jafali Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi will be lashed publicly fifty times for the second time in a week.  In Sherbrooke, Quebec his wife Ensah Haidar and their three children, who have been welcomed to Canada as refugees, await in fear and agony at the prospect of the torture their husband and father faces yet again.  And across Canada and around the world a growing chorus of hundreds of thousands of voices call on the Saudi government to end this terrible injustice and free Raif Badawi from prison rather than continue with his cruel and inhuman sentence of 1,000 lashes.

    Minister, Raif Badawi’s case has rapidly become a case of deep concern for Canadians everywhere in the country.  Whether it be through demonstrations and vigils in Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa; letters and petitions signed and circulated by tens of thousands of women, men and young people; intensive action on social media; and numerous national and international media interviews, Canadians have unequivocally called on the Saudi government to not subject Raif Badawi to any further lashes and to unconditionally and immediately release him from detention. 

    We are writing this Open Letter to you now with an urgent request that you build on the statement of concern you released yesterday and specifically demand that Raif Badawi be freed and not lashed. We further urge you to encourage other governments to join you in that demand.

    Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 because he had created an online discussion forum known as Saudi Arabian Liberals and was accused of insulting Islam.  Amnesty International called on Saudi officials to release him as he was a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely because he had exercised his right to freedom of expression.  Raif Badawi is, in fact, a courageous human rights defender, who promoted public debate on important social issues, including women’s equality; something that should be commended and not punished. 

    After an unfair trial Raif Badawi was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison; 1,000 lashes to be delivered fifty at a time over twenty sessions; and a fine amounting to over $300,000.  From the moment of his arrest, through his trial, sentence and, now, the commencement of the lashing, he has been subjected to grave violations of numerous internationally-protected rights,

    including guarantees of freedom of expression, protection against arbitrary arrest, fair trial safeguards and the ban on torture and ill-treatment.  As he endures the ongoing series of lashes there are very serious worries about his health.

    We have very much welcomed expressions of concern to date about Raif Badawi’s case from you, Ambassador Bennett, Minister Paradis and from a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson.  Other governments, including the United States, have spoken out.  However, the case has not been resolved.  Instead, Mr. Badawi faces nineteen more sessions of being lashed fifty times, in public, every Friday following prayers.  It is vitally important, therefore, that the pressure on Saudi authorities continue to build, including by explicitly calling for Raif Badawi’s freedom.

    Minister, there are compelling reasons for Canada to act.

    • Raif Badawi’s wife and children reside in Canada as refugees.  They want and need to be reunited with their husband and father and they have that right under both national and international law.  As such, the Canadian government can and must insist that Raif Badawi be released from prison and allowed to travel to join his family in Canada.

    • By virtue of the fact that Ensaf Haidar and her children live here, Canada is the country with the closest links to Raif Badawi’s family and therefore the greatest responsibility to take action.  No other country has such an obvious connection.

    • In the wake of this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Raif Badawi’s case arises amidst heightened wordwide concern about the fragility of the right to free expression and recognition of how important it is to stand strong in defending that essential freedom, including when it is attacked or undermined on religious grounds.  It is both appropriate and of critical importance that Canada stands up for freedom of expression in all contexts and in all countries, whether the threats originate with terrorist groups or governments.  

    Minister, we appreciate the statement you made about Raif Badawi’s case yesterday.  We urge you now to build on the concerns you have expressed by very specifically calling on Saudi authorities to:
    • end any further flogging of Raif Badawi;
    • ensure that Raif Badawi receives independent medical attention; and
    • free Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally.

    The Saudi Arabian government generally rebuffs international criticism of its human rights record. It is, therefore, of vital importance that Canada work with as many other governments as possible in raising Raif Badawi’s case with Saudi authorities.

    Minister, Canada clearly has dealings with the Saudi government at many levels given Saudi Arabia’s role as a major oil producer and considerable geo-political and economic influence.  We urge you to take advantage of all opportunities in the Canada-Saudi relationship to raise Raif Badawi’s case.  There are, for instance, reports that you may meet Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this month, in the context of last year’s 14-year deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.  There are also reports that Prince al-Faisal may visit Ottawa next month.  We urge you to prioritize Raif Badawi’s case in any such meetings and clearly convey to Saudi officials Canada’s expectation and demand that the floggings cease and that Mr. Badawi be freed.

    We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss Raif Badawi’s case and options for further Canadian action on his behalf.



    Béatrice Vaugrante                                                                     
    Directrice Générale
    Amnistie internationale Canada francophone                                                              

    Alex Neve
    Secretary General
    Amnesty International Canada
    (English branch)


    For further information contact John Tackaberry, Media Relations


    Human rights activists in Ottawa will be holding a demonstration outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy, 201 Sussex Drive at 4 p.m. today, Thursday 15 January, in advance of the flogging of Raif Badawi set to resume on Friday 16 January.