Two days ago I got an email/Press Release from Irish PEN calling for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – and his lawyer Abu al-Khair – from prison. Badawi’s crime? Setting up a website, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum. As for his lawyer – who knows? Badawi has also been sentenced to 1000 lashes.
I’ve looked at some translations of Badawi’s articles (e.g. from a Guardian article by Ian Black*, and a single article on the WordPress site https://raifbadawi.wordpress.com) and yes, they are angry and confrontational, but what they call for is secularism and the right to political debate and free speech – rights we are guaranteed in Ireland and an ideal many of us aspire to. Badawi says: For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live.
A comment left on the WordPress site on September 11th 2014 says: Fucking liberals Ur wrong that’s why Ur as in jail (sic). Go fear allah
It is extraordinary to think that on the same planet, in the same century, someone like me – and who the hell cares what I think? – can turn up at a computer any time I like and post whatever I feel like posting without fear. I’m not talking about embarrassment, or the dread of over exposure/self-revelation/being wrong/loathsome comments. I’m talking about being put in prison and sentenced to 1000 lashes – to be given in public, in the presence of an angry, jeering crowd – 50 at a time, at weekly intervals, until the sentence is discharged. I’m talking about prison. Flogging. Repeated, public flogging. Persistent trauma possibly leading to death. A website shut down and a young family living on another continent.
It’s extraordinary that all of this started years ago, and that Raif Badawi and Abu al-Khair have been in jail since 2012. Do we only hear about it now in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and that display of unity in Paris a week ago today? Maybe. If so, now is the time to support Amnesty and your local PEN in their efforts to put pressure on governments to secure the release of these men. Let your TD know that you expect them to support free speech.
This Friday’s flogging, the second of the sentence, was postponed following a doctor’s report. If the pressure/debate continues, these men might even be released, back to their lives and their families.
* “A look at the writings of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1,000 lashes” by Ian Black: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi
Amnesty Ireland: http://www.amnesty.ie/
PEN International: http://www.pen-international.org/
PEN Canada: http://pencanada.ca/