In a small town in Northern Ireland, journalists and supporters of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi gathered in the autumn rain for a third time, to urge the Saudi Arabian government not to flog him again and to release him for his ten year jail term. They have good reasons to stand up for press freedom…
Meanwhile the blogger’s wife Ensaf Haidar has collected on his behalf the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award, a nomination for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the Medal of Honour of the city of Strasbourg, seat of the Parliament.
Badawi is the founder of a blog called Free Saudi Liberals. Charged with insulting Islam through electronic channels, he was sentenced to prison with 1,000 lashes of the cane, to be delivered fifty at a time every Friday after the Muslim weekly prayers.
photo by Leona O'Neill'
He has received the first 50 lashes at a public flogging, which left him seriously injured. Since then he has not been flogged and has written a book called 1,000 Lashes. Part of it has been printed in the German magazine DER SPIEGEL.
The Saudi Press Agency in the capital Riyadh defends the sentence, quoting a source in the Justice Ministry:
“The judiciary is independent in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not accept any interference in its jurisdiction or internal affairs by any party”
Riyadh is 4,000 kilometers away from Derry (also known as Londonderry). Yet Badawi’s case is close to the hearts of journalists there.
Anton McCabe organised the protests through his local branch of the National Union of Journalists, which covers Ireland and the UK.
McCabe says: “Raif’s case is a very important press freedom issue, particularly given the repressive nature of the Saudi Arabia regime.”
The local journalists’ union leader told the ECPMF they were heartened by the response from passersby outside the town’s Guildhall, who had all heard of Badawi. He explained why press freedom is a crucial local issue:
‘We’re also very active on the issue of Martin O’Hagan, the murdered journalist. We’re none too pleased with the response from the Northern Ireland authorities.
Martin O’Hagan was an investigative journalist, a Catholic and Republican who had served time in jail during the Troubles – the civil war in Northern Ireland.
photo by Leona O'Neill'
He was murdered in 2001 as he walked home from a Belfast pub with his wife Marie, a Protestant. It’s alleged that the murder suspects, believed to be Protestant paramilitaries, colluded with a police cover-up. The case is included in a BBC documentary Panorama: Britain’s Secret Terror Trials http://bbc.in/1OCKGRC
The O’Hagan family is offering a 69,359 euros (£50,000) reward for information about the murder.
Meanwhile Badawi’s family has been given political asylum in Québec, Canada. His wife Ensaf Haidar is in Europe, collecting his latest awards and publicising his case. And signatures from the people of Derry have joined the list more than one million names on Amnesty International’s petition from his supporters across the world.