On June 17, 2012, my husband, Raif Badawi, the father of my three children and my best friend, was arrested in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. For nearly three years, as he has languished in prison, my family has been trapped in a nightmare.
Raif is a man of principle and a respected activist in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, he started a blog where readers could openly discuss politics, religion and other social issues. But in Saudi Arabia, one can pay an unthinkable price simply for blogging. Raif was convicted of insulting Islam and violating the kingdom’s repressive information-technology laws.
Then this January, in a show of cruelty, the authorities lashed Raif 50 times. He still faces 950 more lashes and seven more years in prison. I didn’t think there could be anything worse than watching a shaky cellphone video of my husband being publicly beaten in front of a mosque thousands of miles away. But recently I learned of efforts to retry Raif on a charge of apostasy — that he has abandoned or renounced Islam. This information chilled me to my core because, under Saudi law, such a charge is punishable by death — usually by beheading.
My family has also received confirmation that the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court has referred Raif’s case to the same judge who sentenced him to flogging and 10 years imprisonment. This judge has twice requested that Raif be charged with apostasy. While in previous years his request was denied on the grounds that the criminal court did not have jurisdiction in apostasy cases, this has changed. This judge wrote in his original verdict against Raif that he is confident that Raif is an apostate.
If the court finds my husband guilty, I fear we will never see him again. How will my children grow up without their father?
When I am allowed to speak with Raif, I brief him about all that is being done on his behalf. Because of a global outcry by citizens and governments of the world, Raif has not been flogged for 11 consecutive weeks. But I know that as soon as the media spotlight fades and pressure on the repressive Saudi monarchy eases, Saudi Arabia may seek to do what it pleases with my husband. It is critical that the pressure not abate, not even for an instant.
More than a million people around the world have demanded that the Saudi Arabian authorities release my husband, including more than 60 members of Congress who have sent a letter to the Saudi king calling for his release. But despite this, neither the White House nor Secretary of State John Kerry has followed suit. I beg members of the administration to follow their congressional colleagues’ lead and demand that Raif be released immediately. The United States presents itself as a champion of human rights throughout the world. It cannot allow its important strategic relationship with the kingdom to overshadow its moral standing. Raif must be returned to my arms, not dragged to his death.
The apostasy charge has been hanging over Raif’s head since he was arrested. But even if my husband is not sentenced to death, he will still face the cruel and unusual punishment of years in prison and hundreds of lashes. He cannot be safe until his sentence is quashed and he is released.
Before his arrest, my husband wrote: “We want life for those who wish death to us; and we want rationality for those who want ignorance for us.” I carry his words and his courage with me on the darkest and most hopeless days. Raif inspires me and compels me to keep raising my voice.
Ensaf Haidar lives in Canada, where she was granted political asylum.