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MPs from all parties demand that the Saudi government free Raif Badawi

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Photo: flickr/Amnesty Finland

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The Canadian government is beating its breast over its self-proclaimed war on the terrorist opponents of human rights and free expression.

At the same time, the Harper government is doing little to convince its ally Saudi Arabia to respect Raif Badawi's freedom of expression.

Badawi is the blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison and a fine of over a quarter million dollars for the simple act of publishing a blog that advocated free speech.

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar has sought asylum in Canada and is living in Sherbrooke, Quebec with her three children.

On Thursday there was a demonstration in support of Badawi at the posh Saudi Embassy on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, about a kilometre -- and a 14 minute walk -- from the Prime Minister's 24 Sussex official residence.

Amnesty International and a group of MPs and Senators sent statements of support, calling for Badawi's release. 

While one Conservative Senator and one Conservative MP were in that group -- as were NDPers, Liberals and the Green Party Leader -- the Harper government has been notably nonchalant in its efforts on behalf of this victim of state-instituted terror.

Badawi received his first set of 50 lashes on January 9 and was officially due to receive another on January 30. Saudi authorities gave him a last minute reprieve. But they are not cancelling the lashing; merely delaying it. 

In their letters, the MPs refer to the Saudi treatment of a man guilty of nothing more than exercising his freedom of speech as "barbarism," "a frontal assault on fundamental freedoms," "a violation of basic human dignity" and an "egregious abuse of human rights."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that Badawi's case is not an isolated one.

"Since March 2011 [Saudi] authorities have continued a relentless campaign of repression in the name of security," Amnesty Canada reports, "The authorities have cracked down on peaceful activists calling for reforms and on demonstrators protesting against human rights violations. Those who express dissent face arrest and imprisonment whether they are critics, bloggers, activists or academics. Raif Badawi is just one of many."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raised the Badawi case in meetings with a Saudi Prince at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but publicly the Harper government has not raised its voice very loud in protest.

Government officials have used some strong words, which echo those of the MPs, but they blunt the effect of those words when they add that "since Badawi is not a Canadian citizen" there is little the government can do.

Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada points out that since Badawi's family has been given asylum in Canada, the Canadian government has a special responsibility to the imprisoned blogger. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- a country that imposes death sentences on 'sorcerers,' denies basic rights to women (such as the right to drive a car), and severely limits free speech and expression -- remains one of Canada's closest and most trusted allies in the Middle East and North Africa region. 


Photo: flickr/Amnesty Finland

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