Elham Manea accepts the Geneva Summit Courage Award on behalf of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and addresses the 7th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Dr. Elham Manea: Thank you very much. We stand united in our humanity. Your precious Courage prize, which I gratefully and cordially accept on behalf of Raif Badawi, is telling us just that. You don’t know how much this price means to this fight for freedom, or to those men and women who are standing for their basic human rights in the face of tyranny, and human rights violations. Your prize tells us that we’re not divided by culture, religion, race, gender or color. No, it tells us that we are united. United in our humanity, united in our unequivocal commitment to, and defense of, universal human rights. It tells these brave men and women that they don’t stand alone in their fight for their basic human rights. They don’t stand alone, we stand together.
Raif Badawi belongs to this category of brave activists, in fact, I consider him one of the bravest. When a judge told him that he should repent and apologize for what the judge called, or, described as his “crimes” or otherwise face consequences, Raif calmly responded, “I did not commit a crime to repent or to apologize for.” The consequence that the judge meant at the time was the death penalty for apostasy. But he said, Raif said, he said: “I did not commit a crime to repent or to apologize for.” It was a simple but fateful sentence, one made of pure belief in his and his fellow citizens’ right to freedom of expression, opinion and belief.
These are not abstract ideas we talk about behind closed doors, in conference rooms. Their absence in our society, in any society, turns the lives of citizens into a living hell. And Raif understood this. He also understood something that we sometimes tend to forget. What he’s fighting for is a right, a basic universal human right. We are entitled to it. It is not a gift, it is not a grant that the state can give or withhold as it wishes. And because of that, Raif Badawi is a symbol, a symbol for all of those imprisoned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the MENA region, because they dared to express their opinion, to exercise the right to freedom of thought, religion and political association, and a symbol for all those demanding their basic human rights, peacefully.
He stands for Waleed Abulkhair, his lawyer, imprisoned to 15 years for doing nothing but his job, for demanding political reform. He stands for Muhammad Rashid al-Ajami, a poet sentenced in Qatar for 15 years for writing a poem. 15 years, for a poem. He stands for Shaima al-Sabbagh, who was shot in the back in Egypt while protesting peacefully. He stands for all of them.
We meet here today, across the street from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia was elected last year to this council and it pledged to live up to the highest standards of human rights. I respectfully wish to ask: why does the Saudi government deny freedoms of speech, religion and political association to its citizens? As a member of the United [Nations] Human Rights Council, why does Saudi Arabia imprison a young man who committed no crime, who only created a blog calling for freedom? Why does it flog a young man 50 lashes for expressing an opinion? And as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, why does the Saudi government impose a system of gender apartheid on its female citizens?
Perhaps it’s an opportunity, this membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, for it is time for the Kingdom to live up to its promise as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council to respect universal human rights. Hence, I respectfully and humbly take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman to free Raif Badawi and unite him with his family.
Thank you very much, Geneva Summit for your outstanding contribution to the universal fight for freedom.
Hillel Neuer: I want to thank Dr. Elham Manea for accepting this award on behalf of Raif Badawi. We have a video of his wife, Raif Badawi’s wife, who received asylum in my own country, in Canada. I’m very proud of that. She couldn’t be with us here today but she was extremely excited about this award. And she asked the family representative to receive the award, but she also wanted to share a few words and there’s English subtitles on the bottom, and let’s show the video.
Ensaf Haidar (Raif Badawi’s wife): Any environment repugnant to mankind soon turns into a sheer hell. Saudi Arabia, the country of 1 million clerics, is the only country that prevents women from driving. It is the only country that oppresses freedoms in the name of religion. It rules in the name of Islamic Sharia, which clearly prescribes death to anyone who leaves the religion.
Ladies and gentlemen, my husband, Raif Badawi, was imprisoned merely for expressing his opinion. His adopting liberalism was reason enough for the Saudi inquisition courts to consider him a criminal, worthy of 10 years in prison and one thousand barbaric lashes. The Islamic inquisition courts, which disappeared when Islamic fascism was eradicated, have now returned during the era of interfaith dialogue sponsor. The Saudi King spends hundreds of millions of dollars to improve Saudi Arabia’s image abroad.
Ladies and gentlemen, Raif Badawi won the Humanity Award from PEN Canada last October. Less than a month later, he won the Reporters Without Borders Netizen Award. In January, he won the Aikenhead Award from the Scottish Secular Society. I was extremely happy to learn that Raif won your distinguished organization’s award, for your tireless protection of human rights.
I tell you, in all honesty, that I am still astounded, to this moment, over the prize awarded to my husband, Raif. This prize bears a clear message to the Saudi regime, namely, that the continued incarceration of Raif is a shame on it, especially considering its war on terror and against the terror group known as the Islamic State.
I would like to thank each of you individually and wish I could be with you on this wonderful day. My only consolation is that Dr Elham Manea, who is loved by both myself and Raif, will receive the prize on behalf of Raif. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Hillel Neuer: I want to thank Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is advocating on his behalf every day in Canada, and she took the time to send us that message which we will post on the internet, on YouTube.
Before we invite the next panel, I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the people who have joined us here today in the audience. This morning, we had a tremendous delegation of young people and we saw how young people are standing up for human rights. Raif Badawi’s a young man, Yeon-Mi Park is a young woman, we saw the girl who jumped off the truck and who was speaking out on behalf of her family, her friends, her people, who are being massacred in Nigeria, and it’s great to have young people here in Geneva, from Annecy to Florimont, from College Candolle and from Germany, as they’ve come each year for the past few years, the Bavarian International School, the Amnesty Hroup, led by Martin Reeves, which each year brings, us we have six young people from there who are volunteering to help run this conference, so we really appreciate all of you for being here and your youth gives us energy, and it gives us hope and inspiration.
With that, I invite our next panel on fighting oppression, defending human rights, to please come forward to the stage.