The condition of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is worsening both physically and mentally, according to his wife who visited Scotland to mark the fifth anniversary of her husband’s arrest.
During her trip, Ensaf Haidar met with politicians and campaigners. She also spoke to The Ferret and talked about Badawi, who is half way through a 10 year prison sentence.
But he was detained on 17 June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison two years later, after being accused of insulting Islam via the forum.
Badawi was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes and despite international condemnation from freedom of expression campaigners, the first 50 lashes were meted out in a public square in Jeddah on 9 January 2015.
He was also given a 10-year travel ban and a one million Saudi Arabian riyal fine . Despite worldwide calls for his release over the past few years, he remains imprisoned.
In posts on the forum, Badawi addressed issues such as intellectual freedom, which, he claimed, was under threat in many Arab countries.
In a 2010 post, he wrote: “I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”
His wife, Ensaf, has been campaigning for her husband’s release while looking after their three children who now live with her in Quebec, Canada. She was granted political asylum there after arriving in 2013.
Speaking to The Ferret in Edinburgh ahead of an Amnesty International event, Ensaf said that Badawi’s condition was deteriorating in prison.
“To be honest, he’s not well. He’s not well mentally, five years is not an easy time to spend in prison. His children are growing older and he’s missing out on that experience. And, of course, how he’s doing mentally is affecting how he’s doing physically, in addition to the kidney problems he has at the moment,” Ensaf said.
Previously she could speak with her husband around once or twice a week but contact is now only once a month, or sometimes only every second month.
Ensaf added that she can only speak with Badawi for around 10 minutes on a public telephone that is available to 300 prisoners.
He won’t discuss conditions inside the prison, she said, adding that although life has been extremely difficult for her and the children, the family is coping.
“I have to go on. The way I see it, I have two options. I can sit at home and cry and be depressed about it all the time, or I can I go out there and try and do something about it,” she said.
She has three children – Najwa, 13, Terad, 12, Miriam, 9 – who live with her in Quebec.
Ensaf said: “They are trying to live the semblance of a normal life. We left Saudi Arabia when they were very very young and now the eldest is a teenager. They miss their father, they ask about him.
“But they try and live their lives as normal children. The situation in Quebec is really lovely for a family at the moment. They go to school, they have friends, and try to live a normal life.”
Last year, she wrote a book about her life called Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story.
Response has been good, she said, adding: “I feel like it hasn’t really been promoted that well but the people who do read it, always make a point of getting in touch with me via social media…Twitter…Facebook…to say ‘I’ve just finished reading your book and it’s really good’.”
Her recent visit to Scotland was facilitated by Amnesty International and she gave talks in Glasgow and Edinburgh and visited the Scottish Parliament. She remains hopeful that Badawi will be released before the end of his sentence and asked the Saudi authorities to release her husband.
Ensaf said: “I am really thankful for all the support that I’ve had. I have quite a lot of hope. I plead that after the last reforms in Saudi Arabia – that they would consider releasing Raif as part of these reforms. I really do hope that this is something imminent.”
Amnesty International said that it had received more than a million messages in support of Badawi since 2014.
Referring to meetings with Scots politicians regarding Badawi, Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty’s Scotland programme director, said: “We wanted to highlight Raif’s case, to ensure that international pressure continues on the Saudi government so that’s why we met with the Scottish Government and the key committee, and also with MSPs across political parties.
“We talked about lots of things, even symbolic gestures and potentially (Raif) getting things like freedom of cities, again to shine a spotlight and show solidarity.”
Amnesty International has also highlighted the plight of Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is currently serving a 15-year prison term solely for his human rights work.
Samah Hadid, Middle-East Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International said: “Raif Badawi has already served half of his prison term, but he shouldn’t be locked up in the first place.
“Saudi Arabian authorities must ensure his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“Blogging is not a crime. The harsh punishment of Raif Badawi shows the Saudi Arabian authorities’ blatant contempt for freedom of expression and the extent to which they are willing to go to crush all forms of dissent.”
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London was contacted for comment but at time of writing had not replied.