MONTREAL – Saudi blogger and activist Raif Badawi, whose conviction sparked widespread international outrage, was released on Friday after a decade in prison for criticizing the country’s conservative religious establishment, his Quebec-based wife confirmed.
Ensaf Haidar, who lives with the couple’s three children in the city of Sherbrooke, tweeted that the 2015 winner of the Sakharov European Human Rights Prize “is free”. A family spokesperson said they had no further comment.
Badawi’s sentence expired on February 28 and Montreal human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, who represents Badawi internationally, said last month that release from prison was scheduled for March.
Cotler, a former federal justice minister and founder of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, had warned that Badawi was still subject to a 10-year travel ban, media ban and a punitive fine imposed at the time of conviction.
“We’re talking about a sort of prison without walls where he’s deprived of travel for the next 10 years,” Cotler said at the time. “It would be continuing the punishment outside of prison that he was undergoing inside of prison – the intense pain of being deprived of being with his wife and children.”
Badawi was imprisoned in 2012 and sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million Saudi riyals – now around $340,000 – for criticizing the country’s clerics in his writings. .
Most of the floggings were suspended, but he eventually suffered 50 lashes in front of hundreds of onlookers in the city of Jeddah in 2015. Badawi’s feet and hands were shackled during the flogging, but his face was visible.
The punishment drew outrage and condemnation from around the world, including many of Saudi Arabia’s allies.
The European Union awarded Badawi the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Human Rights in 2015 and the US State Department and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the kingdom to overturn the conviction .
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas to Swedes in 2015 after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister called the Badawi decision “medieval” and said the Al Saud family in power of the kingdom presided over a “dictatorship”.
Last year, the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada urged the Minister of Immigration to grant Badawi Canadian citizenship, but that has yet to happen. His wife, however, has Canadian citizenship.
Badawi’s sister Samar was also jailed in 2018 in a crackdown targeting activists who had peacefully advocated for greater freedoms, rights groups say. She was released last year.
Canadian criticism of his case led the Saudi government to expel the Canadian ambassador and withdraw its own ambassador. It also halted its national airline flights and ordered Saudi students in Canada to return home.
Samar Badawi and others had criticized Saudi male guardianship laws, which gave husbands, fathers and, in some cases, a woman’s own son control over her ability to obtain a passport and travel. They had also advocated for the right of women to drive. Both restrictions have since been lifted.
Samar Badawi, who was also facing a travel ban, first came to prominence when she asked Saudi courts to remove her father from legal guardianship on the grounds that he prohibited her from marrying suitors. potentials. Years later, she stood up for her brother Raif.