Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnistie Internationale Canada francophone, gives a snapshot of some of the widespread global campaigning for Raif Badawi. Raif has been sentenced to ten years and 1,000 lashes after starting a website for public debate in Saudi Arabia.
When the vigil in Montreal ended, we were all frozen to the bone. It was a gorgeous day, but to motivate activists and supporters to stay outdoors for over an hour in -20 degree temperatures, you have to be creative.
Motivating them to come in the first place wasn’t that hard – I could see the energy and the anger in their faces. They were outraged at what was happening to Raif Badawi, and they wanted to act. Another reason to attend: standing beside me, upright, silent and proud, small in stature but great in spirit, was Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who has taken refuge in Quebec along with their three children. Together, we our determined to reunite this family.
There were about 100 of us at the rally: long-time activists, anonymous supporters, well known figures from the arts, and – finally – some politicians, elected officials publicly condemning the floggings and demanding that Canada acts. Ensaf faced a wall of photographers and cameras, stoic and unflinching.
After our guest percussionists had made some noise to fire us up, I tried to summarize what this case represents: a Saudi Arabian state with a long track record of organized repression and an unfair justice system, hypocritically marching for Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression in Paris while flogging a prisoner of conscience back home a couple of days later. Other states have played ball with Saudi Arabia for decades. Now, with the size of the movement behind Raif, they have no choice but to take a public position, however timidly.
Next, Ensaf spoke. Her French is good, but to express her anger and determination and find the words that would have an impact, she spoke in Arabic. We were all floored by the strength of this tiny woman. What agonies she has endured these past two Fridays, and these past years!
The first time Raif received 50 lashes, she had to tell their three children herself, before they heard about it from the neighbours or the media. She demanded justice, and her demand is backed by the hundreds of thousands of activists and supporters whom Amnesty has mobilized worldwide.
At last Canada has broken its silence, as well as the Premier of Quebec, and many others including heads of state and the UN. We are finally hearing the right words, but we are not yet seeing the right actions. We must persevere.
I have huddled with my team, and we have many further steps planned – holding vigils, writing letters to my fellow directors, telephoning senior officials and elected representatives, calling on other organizations to take a public stance, responding to the media requests, using social media strategy to amplify the noise…
Are we exhausted? Ensaf can scarcely sleep, and Raif, well… No, we have plenty of energy left. #WeAreRaif #FreeRaif.
Read moreFive ways you can help Raif Badawi (blog, 15 January)
Postponement of Raif Badawi flogging on medical grounds exposes shocking brutality of punishment (news story, 16 January)
7 ways Saudi Arabia is silencing people online (Wire magazine, December 2014)