On 9 January, we will be holding a special lunchtime vigil at the Saudi Embassy in London to mark three years since Raif Badawi was first flogged. Please join us between 1-2pm, even if just for a few minutes on your lunchbreak, to show the Saudi authorities we will not forget him. Activists are asked to meet at the Curzon Street entrance to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mayfair, London (note: the postal address of the Embassy is 30-32 Charles Street).
Three years ago, on 9 January 2015, reports emerged that the imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi had been flogged in Saudi Arabia. Although Badawi had been arrested in June 2012 and sentenced almost two years later – to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes – it was the brutal public flogging that took place that January morning, covert footage of which began to make its way around the world, that forced the international community to pay any real attention to his plight.
In a Newsweek piece marking the fourth anniversary of his arrest (June 2016), I wrote about how PEN and many others organisations and individuals across the world were doing whatever we could to keep raising Badawi’s case, both with our own governments and with their Saudi counterparts. That is no less true eighteen months later. Here in the UK we have received cross-party support for our campaigns for Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, who is also serving a lengthy prison sentence in violation of his right to freedom of expression. (You can encourage your MP to add their name to the current Early Day Motion – details below) We continue to hold monthly vigils at the Saudi Embassy here in London calling for their releases and that of fellow writer Ashraf Fayadh, imprisoned for his poetry. We have read their work and invited fellow writers to respond to it. And together with our colleagues at RSF we have also have hosted leading Saudi campaigner Ensaf Haider, Badawi’s wife and most outspoken supporter, at events here in London. We have tried to use – and will continue to use – every available opportunity to raise their cases, to call for their freedom. But, despite our best efforts, Badawi remains behind bars, thousands of miles from his young family, who now live in exile in Canada, and increasingly despondent.
Recent months have seen some significant developments in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the realm of women’s rights. Following years of campaigns in the country – including those led by the extraordinary activist and former PEN case Wajeha Al-Huwaider – women will finally be allowed to drive next year, although it will take another six months for this to become reality. Meanwhile, in recent days it has been announced that cinemas will reopen across the country, following a 35-year ban. As Haidar has pointed out, these developments echo some of the calls Badawi was making through his blog, calls for which he continues to serve a lengthy prison sentence with the threat of 950 lashes still looming large. In spite of the ongoing vigils, the numerous prizes, the endless campaigning, Haidar has spoken of how her husband is beginning to lose hope.
Last week reports emerged that Badawi may have been included on a list prisoners to be granted a royal pardon. For his sake and hers, we really hope that this proves to be the case. And in the meantime we must continue to keep up the pressure, not only for the Badawi family but for embattled writers everywhere.
Join our vigil
On 9 January, English PEN and Reporters Without Border will hold a special lunchtime vigil at the Saudi Embassy in London to mark three years since Raif Badawi was flogged. Please join us between 1-2pm (even if just for a few minutes on your lunchbreak!) to show the Saudi authorities we will not forget him. Let us know if you’re coming and please invite your friends.
The vigil will be co-sponsored by other organisations active on Raif Badawi’s case including Amnesty International UK, Bread and Roses TV, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, International Humanist and Ethical Union – IHEU, Reporters Without Borders, and One Law For All.
Send a card
PEN’s annual Season’s Greetings initiative encourages members and supporters to send messages to writers at risk around the world and their families. #PENgreetings
Ask your MP for their support
Write to your MP urging them to support this Early Day Motion for Raif Badawi’s release via https://www.writetothem.com/
Spread the word
Share details of Raif Badawi’s case on social media #FreeRaif
Help support our work on behalf of Raif Badawi and other writers at risk around the world by joining PEN today. And if you’re already a member, please consider buying the gift of membership for a friend: just visit the English PEN membership form and make sure you click the ‘Give as a gift’ link.