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Ensaf Haidar: An appeal to the Saudi government

"He's doing poorly," says Ensaf Haidar of her husband, the blogger Raif Badawi, who has been in prison for five years. In an interview with DW, Haidar talks about the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

DW: Why are Arab authorities, especially Saudi authorities, so afraid of people writing what they think?

Menschenrechtsaktivistin Ensaf Haidar (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heinl)

Ensaf Haidar

Ensaf Haidar: The fact that my husband has been in jail for five years shows that there is no freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Raif expressed his opinion in a friendly and peaceful manner, so there was no reason to be afraid. He had also written for Saudi newspapers, and that shows that he wasn't an enemy of the state. He even had the experience of traveling abroad.

So why are some states so afraid of these independent spirits?

Because of the different opinions. It's us they're afraid of, not the expression of opinion as such.

So they would prefer there to be only one opinion?

This is what their approach suggests. They want everyone to be of the same opinion. They're afraid of a wide range of opinions.

Read: Fury at Saudi election to UN women's rights group

How is your husband doing at the moment?

After five years in captivity separated from his children and the outside world, he's naturally doing poorly physically and psychologically. He has been imprisoned for five years without having committed a crime.

Berlin - Demonstration für Raif Badawi (DW/N. Conrad)

Badawi's arrest has spurred an international solidarity movement

Of course, the Saudi authorities see the situation differently. What do you tell your children? Do they understand what's going on?

They understand it and are proud of their father, though they miss him very much. They need him, especially at this age.

Do you stay in constant contact with Raif?

In the beginning he always called me for brief periods of time, but I haven't heard anything from him in over three weeks.

Human Rights Watch has listed 140 people in the Gulf states who have been imprisoned or oppressed due to their opinions. Raif Badawi is one of them. There are other bloggers and journalists from Saudi Arabia who cannot go free as well. On the press freedom index, the country is ranked at the very bottom.

If we had press freedom, Raif would be free. He's been in jail for five years and he'll be there for five more. Along with that he's also been handed a 10-year travel ban, a fine of one million riyal ($266,654) and 1,000 lashings by cane. Anyone who sees this sentence can decide if we have press freedom here or not.

Raif Badawi und Ensaf Haidar (privat)

Badawi and Haidar seen together

How important then is freedom of expression? There are people who say there is already too much division; there's terrorism and there's foreign interference, which undermine a country's sovereignty.

Those who speak peacefully and know the laws have the right to express themselves! That is a basic right of every person, whatever the subject.

Do you speak with your children about freedom of expression? That is a social issue and not just a legal one. From society as well there is a partial rejection of freedom of expression…

Here in Canada it is, of course, completely different. It's a secular country, where you can express your opinion freely, directly in the press. When I tell my kids about their father, they don't understand what the problem is at all with someone having a blog. It's completely different here.

There is an international solidarity campaign for your husband. How does that make you feel?

I can only be thankful and hope that the initiators continue with it. However, so far it has had a psychological effect. It hasn't impacted the proceedings against Raif so far. But I hope that the solidarity continues nonetheless, because moral support is so important. That gives Raif and me hope and strength.

Raif Badawi mit seinen Kindern (privat)

Badawi with his children

Do you personally hope that pressure from the campaign will help free Raif? It is now an international campaign.

I hope that the Saudi government one day recognizes that freedom of expression is every man's right. Raif always peacefully expressed himself and loved his country. In this way I hope that he soon comes free.

What is your appeal for World Press Freedom Day?

I hope that the whole world continues to stand by us. I call on the Saudi government to give every citizen a space for freedom of expression.

Ensaf Haidar is the wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to ten years in jail, a large fine and 1,000 lashings by cane by a Saudi court in May 2014 for allegedly insulting Islam. After 50 lashings in January 2015, that part of the sentence was suspended. Ensaf Haidar lives with her children in Canada.

The interview was conducted by Jaafar Abdul Karim.

Watch video 01:52

Saudi Arabian issues

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