I have been worrying about Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian condemned to 1000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment for writing a blog which criticised senior religious figures. He suffers from hypertension, and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, says that the sentence will be a ‘slow death’. The first beating made him really ill.
Raif is paying with his life for expressing a point of view publicly in writing, a right that we in the West take for granted. He is not alone either. Amnesty reports that in Saudi Arabia recently ‘there have been investigations, arrests and short-term detentions of journalists, athletes, poets, bloggers, activists and tweeters’.
To speak out is a an act of courage in many countries around the world, not the right that we regard it as here in the UK. I don’t know if I would do it, given the consequences someone like Raif is facing.
It is through the actions of people like him, that discussion is generated, ideas are disseminated and change happens in some of the most repressive countries in the world. That, of course, is why the Saudi Arabians are coming down on him so hard. They are terrified of criticism and scrutiny. Like bullies in the school playground, they want to silence debate at any cost.
I want to use my blog entry this month, to ask you to sign Amnesty’s petition to free Raid Badawi. It will only take a moment of your time, and if enough people protest about his treatment, it might work. People like Raif are on the front line defending the freedom of expression. One day, times may change and you or I may be forced to choose between staying silent over something we feel passionately about, or face hideous consequences.
As it is, we have the good fortune to live in a time and place where we are able to say what we want, a freedom that was paid for in the past by other people’s blood. I think Raif deserves our support.