Raif Badawi is the Saudi blogger who still faces jail time and lashes for his criticism of Islam years ago. He’s nearly five years into a ten-year sentence. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their kids live in Quebec, where they were given asylum.
Last week, women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, Raif’s sister, was arrested in Saudi Arabia. Why? Who the hell knows. She’s a women’s rights activist. That’s why. (So much for the “progressive” image Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has attempted to project into the world.)
The arrest was disturbing enough that Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland voiced her concern in a tweet:
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 2, 2018
She’s right to say there’s support for the Badawis from her government. Back in April, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, he expressed his “serious concern” over Badawi’s imprisonment.
Freeland’s department issued a similar tweet the following day, even calling for the release of the Badawis.
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
Those tweets somehow began an international battle. The Saudi government didn’t just express disagreement with Canada’s position; they called it a “breach of the principle of #sovereignty” and issued a freeze on all new “trade and investment transactions” between the two countries.
It didn’t stop there, according to Vox:
Then things got even darker.
Early Monday morning, a pro-government Saudi Twitter account, @Infographic_ksa, tweeted a photo of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward the Toronto skyline with this message: “As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.’”
The photo was eerily reminiscent of the scenes of jetliners slamming into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were citizens of Saudi Arabia.
Now deleted, here a screenshot of the threatening Saudi "infographic" featuring an airliner headed for the Toronto skyline. pic.twitter.com/LrkCLxxjFk
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) August 6, 2018
An official (and verified) Saudi account later apologized for that tweet. But flights to Toronto are no longer scheduled on the nation’s official airline.
This week, Saudi Arabia kicked the Canadian ambassador out of the country.
Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Canada and labelled the Canadian envoy to the Kingdom “persona nongrata”
— CIC Saudi Arabia (@CICSaudi) August 5, 2018
The escalating tensions have Ensaf Haidar frightened on behalf of her husband — for good reason.
“It’s alarming news to me. It came as a surprise,” Haidar told CBC News Sunday night, saying she still isn’t certain what impact the dispute will have on her husband’s situation.
“I don’t know what’s going on.”
“I’ve been waiting for six years. My [three] children have been waiting for six years. I’m always waiting and, unfortunately, I don’t know when I will be able to stop waiting,” she said.
Remember that Badawi received 50 lashes of his 1,000 lash punishment. Then they mysteriously stopped. There’s concern that he’ll be tortured once again — or worse — as a pawn in this ridiculous battle over human rights.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called for the U.S. government to follow Canada’s lead in condemning the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia:
The United States should be following the lead of Canada in condemning human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Instead, U.S. inaction corresponds to Saudi Arabia’s aggressive and reactionary response to Canada’s criticism of recent arrests of Saudi rights activists.
So far, the government has done little more than to ask the Saudis for more details on the people in their custody and make a polite request to “respect due process.” That’s… not helping. We can’t count on the U.S. government to lead the charge for human rights in the world — how can we when we’re violating them ourselves?
Instead, we look to Canada to keep up this fight and not back down from Saudi intimidation. Raif Badawi deserves at least that.
(Image via Shutterstock)