Peter Tatchell: Britain should treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah state. Free Raif Badawi!
Free Raif Badawi !
It is exactly three years ago today that the pro-democracy blogger Raif Badawi was arrested and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld the draconian sentence handed down for his ‘crime’ of setting up a liberal website: ten years jail and 1,000 lashes.
Meanwhile, Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law, Waleed Abu Al-Khair – himself a human rights activist and founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia – had his 15 year jail sentence confirmed in February.
This is happening in a country that successive British governments have allied with, diplomatically and militarily, despite its tyrannical nature and its sharp divergence from our stated democratic, liberal and human rights values. Our foreign policy on Saudi Arabia doesn’t match what we say we stand for.
Indeed, as well as Raif’s and Waleed’s persecution, Amnesty international has documented ten different forms of gross human rights abuse perpetrated by the regime in Riyadh.
Despite UK government silence, human rights campaigners have kept the Badawi case in the public eye. English PEN has been holding weekly vigils outside the Saudi Embassy in London, and the Amnesty International petition calling for his release has over 1 million signatures. People worldwide are sharing the #FreeRaif appeal on social media, calling for his immediate, unconditional release.
Badawi is one of the human rights heroes of our age. He has been awarded several prizes, including PEN Canada’s One Humanity Award, and has been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Numerous Nobel laureates have voiced their support for Raif, as have well-known public figures such as Patti Smith, Jimmy Wales, Salman Rushdie and Noam Chomsky.
Today, on this third anniversary of Badawi’s arrest, we will be taking our campaign to Downing Street, with a delegation including representatives from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, English PEN, Index on Censorship, International Front for Secularism and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
Our letter to the Prime Minister urges him to publicly call for the release of Raif and other political prisoners, and to condemn all human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. We also want David Cameron to make trade with Riyadh conditional on the regime’s respect for human rights and ethical norms of governance – particularly in relation to the sale of weapons that could be used to oppress Saudi citizens. These demands will be reiterated at a public meeting this evening in the Houses of Parliament with MPs, peers and campaigners.
Until it conforms to international human rights standards, Saudi Arabia should be treated as a pariah state. Arms sales must end, the British ambassador should be recalled, and key regime figures sanctioned internationally.
Dear Prime Minister
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.
In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.
The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.
But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.
The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.
As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.
We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.
If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.
In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia
List of Signatures and more information: Free Raif Badawi.
Day of action for Raif Badawi (from English PEN).