Raif Badawi, a prominent Saudi blogger and human rights advocate, arrested in 2012, is finally free after ten years in prison. Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's wife, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that her husband called her about his release.
"Raif called me. He is free," she said. Haidar is living in Quebec, Canada, along with their three children.
After 10 years my father is free! pic.twitter.com/ZF2GePvHGu
— Terad Raif Badawi (@raif_badawi) March 11, 2022
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Haidar said she's lost for words with the news. "I would like to find the words, but I am just happy," she said. "He is doing well. Even he doesn't know what to say," she added.
According to France24, a Saudi security official confirmed Badawi's release. Requesting anonymity, the official said Badawi "was released today." According to the BBC, Badawi's sentence ended on March 1, 2022.
In 2008, Badawi started the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, an online blog with a forum where members are encouraged to debate political and religious affairs in Saudi Arabia. After his arrest, Badawi's blog and forum were taken down from the internet.
Badawi's bravery in speaking out against the influential clerics got him unwanted attention. In 2010, he openly criticized religious institutions in Saudi, accusing them of suppressing creativity.
"As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel," Badawi posted on his blog.
He also called secularism a "practical solution."
In 2012, Badawi was arrested in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and was charged with "insulting Islam through electronic channels" and "going beyond the realm of obedience." An additional charge for apostasy was recommended by a judge later that year.
After the initial 50 public lashes (out of 1,000) caused a public and international outcry, Saudi authorities opted for a lesser punishment. In 2013, his sentence was reduced to seven years in prison, with 600 lashes. But in 2014, Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court upheld the initial sentence of 1,000 lashes and extended Badawi's sentence to 10 years in prison. He was also fined more than $260,000 and was banned from jobs in the media, including a 10-year travel ban. The remaining public lashes were never carried out, though he languished in prison.
Reporters Without Borders (RFS) tweeted that they are on standby to "ensure that he will stay safe and be able to join his family in Canada despite his 10-year travel ban."
BREAKING - #SaudiArabia: Blogger @Raif_Badawi has been released after ten years in prison! RSF welcomes this decision and shares his relatives' relief. We remain mobilized to ensure that he will stay safe and be able to join his family in Canada despite his 10-year travel ban. pic.twitter.com/rGg5SSSHlN
— RSF (@RSF_inter) March 11, 2022
Canada also expressed support for Badawi's immediate reunion with his family. The province of Quebec has put him "on a priority list of potential immigrants for humanitarian reasons."