You've heard the saying, "Power To The People!"
In 2015 and the years that followed, we used that power to stop the barbaric lashing of Raif Badawi. Now, in 2022, we must use that power again to bring him home. For ten years, we cried "Free Raif!".
Today, on February 28th 2022, we can finally cry, "Raif is free!"
There is a layer of darkness behind this joyful news, however. This is especially true for his wife Ensaf and their three children, Najwa, Terad, and Myriam, because Raif is still subject to a ten year travel ban that will prevent him from reuniting with his family in Canada. Unless… unless we can persuade the Canadians to grant him Canadian citizenship and the Saudi authorities to let him leave the country that tortured and dehumanized him, and thousands of others, for so many years.
In the span of ten years, Raif has been lashed fifty times by Saudi authorities, attacked by fellow inmates, and even thrown into Solitary Confinement for several months on multiple occasions. To make things worse, the authorities turned a blind eye to his many hunger strikes, causing his physical and mental health to decline to the point where he had to be moved to the prison infirmary for weeks at a time. All this torture just for writing
I pride myself on being a whistle-blower, especially lately, because ever since I learned of Raif, I couldn't get him or his family out of my thoughts and prayers. Through my research, I've learned that Raif's second born, his only son Terad, or Dodie as his mother and sisters affectionately call him, has taken over his father's Twitter account. His recent posts include news of an upcoming interview with Myriam, Raif's youngest, and a link to an interview with his older sister, Najwa.
“Our dad used to give us hugs all the time and we don't even remember. It's not so normal that a child doesn't remember their father's hugs."
This quote of Najwa's is utterly heartbreaking. By throwing Raif, a peaceful man, into imprisonment, the Saudi authorities have robbed his children of a loving and devoted father and have denied Raif one of the greatest gifts in the world: watching his children grow up.
"If he has a cell phone, we'll be able to see him! I haven't seen him for 11 years. I don't know what he looks like and he doesn't know what we look like."
As Najwa has pointed out, there is a small flicker of happiness upon her father's release, because even if Raif isn't allowed to fly to Canada straight away, he will still be able to see and speak to his wife and children without a time limit, without being monitored, without handcuffs, for the first time in a decade.
"He fought. He went after things, regardless of the consequences. He can be proud of himself because it still made things happen there. Without him, nothing would have changed. It's a fight he fought for everyone, and there, everyone benefits from it, except him."
Once again, Raif's eldest daughter makes a valid point. Though her father is no longer confined to the cold concrete walls of his prison cell, he will still face a difficult existence in Saudi Arabia. Not only will he have difficulty finding work, and struggle with the grief of being so far away from his family, he will also be at risk of continuing to suffer for the consequences of his "actions", as there are still those in Saudi who are angry with him, that they'd want nothing more than to see him pay the ultimate price, putting his life in constant danger. The only way for Raif to truly benefit from all that he risked is for him to be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia.
Despite the devastation and loss of growing up without their father, Reif's children have thrived in Canada. Najwa in particular, is well aware of the sacrifices her father made to ensure that she, her brother and sister, could live a free and full life.
"Without what he did, we wouldn't have had the life we have now. Even though there were a lot of consequences, he went all the way because for him, freedom of expression is the most important thing."
I truly believe that, in light of what's going on in Ukraine, we need Raif's words of peace now more than ever.
(See "1,000 Lashes")
Like Raif, I know that the rewards outweigh the risks. Like Raif, I know that what I am doing is right, even if others think it's wrong. Like Raif, fighting for others is far more important to me than the judgment that may follow.
And, like Raif's family, I just want to to be able to say,
"You're safe now, Raif. You're home and you're safe."