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Badawi 'ends' hunger strike in jail

September 22, 2019

The wife of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi says he has ended his hunger strike after being visited in jail by a Saudi human rights commissioner. Badawi was lashed publicly and jailed in 2014 for allegedly insulting Islam.

Ensaf Haidar standing next to a poster of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/empics/Canadian Press/P. Chiasson

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has ended an almost weeklong hunger strike in prison after receiving a visit from a representative of the kingdom's human rights commission, his wife said on Sunday. 

Ensaf Haider, who is living in exile in Canada, tweeted Sunday that a prison visit by Awwad Alawwad, president of Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission, had prompted her husband to end his "open hunger strike."  

Badawi, who is seven years into his 10-year sentence, had refused food to protest poor prison conditions.

Illness and deprivation

On Friday, Haidar had told Deutsche Welle's Arabic Service that she had learned — via a telephone call from her husband last week — that he intended to begin a hunger strike.

He had spoken of kidney pain and had accused the jail's director of withholding medication as well as a radio he had long used, Haider said.

Haidar, to whom Canada granted asylum along with the couple's three children in 2013, also told DW that she was optimistic that he would soon be freed.

Read more: Saudi Arabia expels Canadian envoy

Protesters in London holding pictures of Badawi
There have been numerous protests, like this one in London, calling for Badawi's releaseImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Arrizabalaga

Demands persistent

"His demands as a blogger are being realized. [Saudi] women are being allowed to drive. The power of the religious police [mutawa] are being curtailed."

Another factor was a rare intervention in July by US Vice President Mike Pence, who called on four countries, including Saudi Arabia, to free jailed people who had "stood in defense of religious liberty."

Pence told a Washington conference that Badawi, and others held by Eritrea, Mauritania and Pakistan, had withstood "unimaginable pressure" and called for their release.

Saudi Arabia used its draconian cybercrime law to shut down Badawi's website and in 2014 had him lashed 50 times in public in Jeddah before jailing him.

The US Trump-Pence administration has generally been subdued on human rights but has prioritized religious freedom, a key issue for its evangelical Christian voter base.

Ensaf Haidar: 'I will fight for Raif and free speech'

ipj/tj (AFP, epd, dpa)

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