MONTREAL: Raif Badawi’s family waits for him in Quebec
PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, stands next to a poster of a book of articles written by the imprisoned Saudi blogger, Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in Montreal. Badawi, who is imprisoned for criticizing Islam on his blog, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence and is also supposed to receive 1,000 lashes delivered in batches of 50 over 20 weeks.
MONTREAL—Live and let live. Put yourself in the shoes of others. Think whatever you want.
These are the prevailing themes in a newly published collection of essays and articles by Raif Badawi, a celebrated Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a $270,000 fine for the crime of insulting Islam.
In isolation, his words are simple. It is the environment in which they are written that makes them profound and even revolutionary.
“It is because of each of the words in this collection that all this has arrived,” Badawi himself wrote in a preface to the book, 1,000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think. The preface was composed in prison.
Badawi’s case has been taken up by activists and human-rights groups around the world. But his plight is felt most acutely in Quebec where Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and three children have been granted refuge to remake their lives.
Just this week, the 31-year-old blogger got a shout out from U2 frontman Bono during a concert in Montreal. His wife also received a prized immigration certificate from the Quebec government that guarantees him safe passage to join his family in Sherbrooke whenever he is freed.
But most importantly for a man whose power and weapon is his words, Badawi’s supporters celebrated the release in French of his first published book this week (an English version is due for release next month).
We hear often enough in the news about dissidents. Language barriers and the powers of a repressive state make it so that we rarely get a chance to read their dissidence. While most of Badawi’s work has been seized, erased or otherwise lost forever, this collection gathers together 14 of his surviving works, opening with his preface.
In the prison that he has shared since 2012 with killers, thieves, drug traffickers and pedophiles, he recounted finding a fragment of graffiti in a filthy and littered toilet one day that read: “Secularism is the solution.”
“To read that . . . proved that there was at least one person who understood me and understood why I had been imprisoned,” he wrote earlier this year.
For the Saudi rulers, Badawi is a dissident and threat. For western activists, he is a prisoner of conscience and a cause. For his family, he is a husband and father.