Sunday, 21 January 2018

Blogging is Not a Crime

Back in December, I wrote a blog post about being silent about things that matter. And to stay true to my word about trying to be more vocal about injustices I am writing today about a man's story that is very close to my heart. 



Raif Badawi is a 33-year-old writer and activist from Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in 2012 for being the owner of a blog called 'Free Saudi Liberals' that called for free speech in the extremely conservative country. He was convicted of several charges and sentenced to 600 lashes and 7 years in prison. This has since been increased to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes. 

It was at the time of his first flogging that I learned of Raif and his story. Amnesty International was calling for people to write to Saudi embassies asking to reduce/cancel his sentence. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful and he received the first 50 lashes on the 9th of January 2015. Since then, I am a little ashamed to admit that I had almost forgotten about him. So when an email landed in my inbox from Amnesty International stating that 3 years later he was still in prison and still waiting to receive the remaining lashes my stomach sunk and I felt feelings of shame and embarrassment and anger all rolled into one.

How could this still be happening?

How could I have forgotten?

How is the world so cruel?

In the UK, there's a lot of discussion around the idea of the 'attack on freedom of speech' but a story like this reminds me that we really do not know what it means to not have freedom of speech. We will never know what it is like to experience an all-encompassing, oppressive regime like in Saudi. I have read some translations of Raif's writing and he writes well, with purpose, clarity and rhythm. My brain can't really process that blogging has been such a positive presence in my life and set the source of actual torture for someone else. I've always thought that when looking at photos of him, that he has very kind eyes. 
His wife and three children were granted political asylum in Canada and again, I cannot even imagine what they are going through. Imagine raising 3 children alone, on the other side of the world from the country of your birth knowing that your husband is still there subject to unimaginable cruelty.  And his children? They are probably too young to really understand but one day they will grow older and have to process something like that  which will be traumatic and difficult for them. It simply isn't fair or just of something that can be justified in a modern world. 

So what can we do to help?

Unfortunately, there's often very little that we can do to help people who are stuck in such bad conditions especially in a country as tightly controlled and rich as Saudi Arabia. 

But it is important that we do not remain silent. 

Saudi Arabia is a country that very highly values its reputation. 

Be vocal about this issue on social media. Tweet about it. Update your Facebook status. Write about it on your blog. 

Talk about it with people, share his story and tell others to share it too. 

Write to your nearest Saudi Arabian embassy urging for his release. Emails and tweets and statuses can be ignored and deleted but the actual physical paper has to be dealt with in some way or another.

1000 emails can be deleted in the click of a few buttons. 1000 letters?  A bit harder to deal with. 

The address of the Saudi Embassy in the UK is 32 Charles Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 5ZD. 

Remember his name, remember his face, tell his story. 

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