Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on hunger strike in prison, says wife

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on hunger strike in prison, says wife

Main pic: Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, stands next to a poster of a book of articles written by the imprisoned Saudi blogger, Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in Montreal. Haidar says her husband has begun a hunger strike after being transferred to a different prison.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson. 

MONTREAL — Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has begun a hunger strike after being transferred to a different prison, his wife said Thursday.

Ensaf Haidar said he started it on Tuesday to protest the move to what she calls an “isolated” prison about 90 kilometres from Djeddah.

“We are very alarmed at the prison administration decision to transfer my husband to the Shabbat Central and fear it may lead to the resumption of his flogging,” Haidar wrote in a note distributed through the Raif Badawi Foundation.

“As a result of this decision, Raif started on Tuesday a hunger trike and we hold the prison administration responsible for any harm that Raif may suffer.”

Haidar, who lives in Sherbrooke, Que., with the couple’s three children, also called on the Saudi Arabian king to pardon Badawi.

Badawi was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for his criticism of Saudi clerics, but an appeals judge stiffened the punishment to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.

He received the first 50 lashes in January but subsequent floggings have been postponed.

Haidar, who has travelled extensively to push for her husband’s release, said Badawi’s new prison was designed for people whose verdicts are final, whereas “the Saudi government has repeatedly declared that Raif’s case is under review and is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.”

A spokesperson for Amnesty International Canada said that although it has been unable to independently verify Haidar’s claims, the organization believes the transfer was expected as part of an administrative decision.

“Our position has always been that he’s been solely imprisoned for freedom of expression and, rather than being transferred to another prison, he should be released immediately and unconditionally,” Elizabeth Berton-Hunter said.

She said the status of Badawi’s case is unclear because although the Saudi Supreme Court upheld his sentence in June, the country’s foreign minister has said the case remains under judicial review.

“So it’s in limbo I guess,” she said. “I think they are not prepared to release him yet.”

Badawi’s imprisonment has drawn widespread condemnation both internationally and in Canada, where Haidar has lived since 2013.

Canada has called for clemency in the case and Quebec lawmakers unanimously adopted a motion in February calling for his immediate release, vowing to expedite his immigration case should he make it here.

Haidar has previously implored Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take up her husband’s case so he can join his family in Canada.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government often said its hands were tied in the Badawi case because he is not a Canadian citizen.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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