Ensaf Haidar, wife of liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up an online platform for political and religious debate, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On Raif Badawi’s imprisonment:
“Seven years in prison — away from his three children, away from his family merely for exercising his natural right to freedom of expression. There is nothing wrong in what Raif said. He did not violate any law; he did not harm anyone and he committed no crime.”
“Our children, they don’t have their father, but they remember him with joy.”
On human rights:
“Freedom of expression is a universal human right that cannot be compromised; and it is the right of every human being without exception.”
“Fear has become a companion for those who aspire to peaceful reform. Imagine this situation: you write an opinion, or expose a violation of human rights, or express a divergent position in Twitter, and you find yourself arrested and deprived of your freedom.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to be here among these distinguished defenders of universal human rights
I bring you a message from my husband, Raif Badawi, who has been in prison seven years, for the crime of thinking.
I bring you a message from my three children, who stand by my side here today, deprived of their father for years because he exercised his natural right to express his opinion.
And I bring you a message of hope.
Hope, that one day I will see my husband Raif Badawi standing right here in my place, telling you the story of his imprisonment, his ordeal and his family.
I bring you a message of determination and strong conviction at the same time – a belief that shaped the work of Raif Badawi – that peaceful change and reform are possible in Saudi Arabia; that freedom of expression is a universal human right that cannot be compromised; and that it is the right of every human being without exception.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This is the first article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and Raif Badawi has tried through his writings to defend and highlight the meaning of this very article.
He had a vision of a state, in which citizens are equal before the law. A state that does not discriminate against its citizens; a state where an individual can believe in what he or she wants; where a human being is not punished for choosing his or her religion or for not choosing any religion; a state where a person can practice a different religion or denomination than the official religion of the state; a state that is neutral, that separates between religion and politics; and a state where a woman is treated as equal before the law, in no need of male guardianship; because she is her own guardian.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” That is what Raif Badawi said and he paid for his beliefs, words and views with his freedom.
Seven years in prison – away from his three children, away from his family merely for exercising his natural right to freedom of expression. There is nothing wrong in what Raif said. He did not violate any law that truly respects human rights; he did not harm anyone and he committed no crime.
He just wanted a peaceful change in his country. He wanted reform in his country. He wrote that publicly and he hoped that his government would listen. And he was disappointed – a disappointment we live its repercussions every day, every hour, since his arrest in 2012.
In my country, the government insists on religious and cultural exceptionalism to justify its violations of freedom of expression, belief and religion. This position, which shaped the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, has been highlighted sufficiently by international human rights organizations. Recently, Human Rights Watch pointed out in a report that the real reason for the prosecution of women’s rights activists, such as Lujina Alhathloul, is primarily related to their peaceful human rights activities.
Fear has become a companion for those who aspire to peaceful reform.
Imagine this situation: you write an opinion, or expose a violation of human rights, or express a divergent position in Twitter, and you find yourself arrested and deprived of your freedom.
Imagine this situation: you are a woman, who rejects the male guardianship system, and end up persecuted by your family and the security forces together.
Imagine this situation: you are person of Christian faith, trying to practice your religion publicly, and you immediately find yourself arrested and imprisoned.
If you are a person of Muslim heritage, who decides to convert to another religion or to have no religion, you will be charged with apostasy and punished by capital punishment.
All of these examples show you, ladies and gentlemen, that the case of Raif Badawi is not about an individual case.
It is the case of a society.
It is the case of a state, and a homeland.
Raif Badawi carried the issue of this homeland in his heart.
He expressed this concern with his pen and his words.
And because his words came out of his heart, out of his convictions of the possibility of peaceful change, his words were terrifying for those who benefit from the status quo.
And because he expressed his opinion in the time of fear, I consider him a hero, my hero. Change will not happen, if we let fear shut our mouths. Change will not happen, if silence remains our approach.
One day, my beloved country will have to abide by international human rights laws and conventions. This dream will come true. I trust in that belief. Just as I am sure that Raif Badawi will one day stand among us here on this podium. And when that happens, I will rejoice and so will you.