A call to action

Let’s not forget Raif Badawi…

otium satis

Those who keep track of the fate of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, most especially his brave family, will know that this year is marked by a special kind of sad anniversary: on 17 June Raif Badawi will have completed his fifth year in prison.

Five years at the hand of a spiteful regime that does not seem to know the difference between concerns about overdue reforms and blasphemy. Five years of isolation from his beloved family, from all that might sustain his spirit during his imprisonment. And on top of all this Raif Badawi has suffered a cruel public flogging – 50 out of the inhuman total of 1000 lashes. As far as we know he has not been subjected to another flogging. But the threat, that his horrible punishment might be resumed, keeps hovering like Damocles’ sword that might fall again anytime.

All this has happened, because Raif…

Ursprünglichen Post anzeigen 688 weitere Wörter

Beyond a single human rights case: Another attempt to explain the importance of supporting Raif Badawi, the conscious of his society

A lot of time I have been asked why I take part in the campaign for Raif Badawi considering that there are so many other people in this world that are affected by some sort of injustice just as much as he is. However it is important for me to state that my involvement has soon gone beyond that point. It is just that Raif Badawi despite being imprisoned has awakened my thoughts and has caused me to read and to speak up, to get aware about human rights issues of today’s world.

But it is difficult for me to explain why it is exactly Raif Badawi that made this happen. That’s mainly because it is a decision which my heart made. It is something like love, but on a higher and more spiritual level. It was just a feeling which said me that I can’t just ignore this; I need to do all which is in my power to help this man.

One possible explanation is the story that I am writing. It’s about Czechoslovakia at the time of communism. While developing it, one of my main characters has become particularly dear to me: Jiří. And in some way I found Jiří in Raif. They have many things in common – so many things that it is almost unbelievable that I had already drafted Jiří when I first read about Raif. And as I am aware about this being the other way round, sometimes when I realize how similar they are, it even scares me. When I talk about their similarities I am thinking about their attitude, their courage, the reaction of the respective government to what they have written or even the style in which their texts are written or their visual aspect. Just that Jiří wasn’t flogged or even had to be afraid of the death penalty.

To stay with the environment of my story – the most important representative of dissent in Czechoslovakia is probably Václav Havel who, too, had to pay a high price for his involvement in human rights issues. He already was politically involved before, discussing politics and such, but his significant engagement about human rights began around 1977 when he and other dissidents drafted the famous petition known as Charta 77. And exactly in these days I have read in his biography that Havel’s involvement too was awakened by a particular case which is even more special than Raif Badawis case, because Raif’s ideas are capable of winning a majority whereas the case here is the one of a minority which has a low reputation even among the more progressive or intellectual people: a music group called “Plastic People of the Universe” whose music resembles more noise than music (Here is a small example) and who lived a hippie-like lifestyle. But he realized that human rights such as freedom of expression should be there for everyone – no matter what they do, how they look like, as long as they are peaceful and don’t harm anyone. And Havel himself had the similar particular feeling through this case as I had it with Raif’s. He wrote about that process: It doesn’t often happen and normally only in moments when only a few calculate with it: somewhere it makes click and an event – thanks to its own preconditions and more or less accidental external circumstances – it suddenly exceeds the borders of its position in the usual banality, breaks through the crust of what it is supposed to be and seemingly also is and uncovers suddenly its innermost, hidden and in some respects symbolic meaning.

In a way that happened when I first read a rather small article about Raif in a newspaper which is available for free in Switzerland which besides this very article is mostly known for scandals and famous people and such.

One of the main reasons which makes his case different from many other cases is the cruelty of his punishment. Ten years of prison for nothing but indipendant thinking un itself are horrible and absolutely not correct, but still it is something that happens way too often, which of course it shouldn’t either. But here we have these 1000 lashes which are added to the sentence and that is -considering this amount – nothing else than a death penalty on instalments. And that is where in my opinion definitely a red line is crossed. Because no one – if guilty or not – deserves such a brutal punishment.

In Raif’s case it is even worse because he has done no harm. I recommend to everyone to buy the small but important book with his thoughts as well as the one in which Ensaf Haidar tells the story of her husband and her. Soon also the latter will be available in English. Reading these accounts and thoughts is a really powerful and also touching way to get to know the personality of Raif Badawi as well as his ideas. I am convinced that anyone who is open to read this without any prejudice will soon see that he has done nothing wrong and most of all that he does not deserve to be closed behind thick prison walls and subjected to physical and psychological harm. He should rather be here among us and able to share his precious ideas with the world. Beside that the books give also a really interesting insight in the society of his region.

As I already anticipated above the whole thing has soon gone beyond the life of a single man. Raif Badawi stands for many others as well. Or to say it with the words of Elham Manea (spokeswoman of the Badawi family who describes herself as a writer who stands for a humanistic Islam): He is being punished for being the conscious of his society. He is the one who is able to perceive the developments in his society and had the courage to put these observations and thoughts into words, not knowing that the response to his moderate attempt to create a small space of free reflection would be so harsh. This shows a lot about the status of human rights in a country whose biggest fear appears to be that its citizens could use the internet to debate freely about various issues as this could mean that more of these citizens could achieve consciousness and make their individual thoughts, or in other words that those in power would lose their monopoly of information control and opinion forming.

In a world that faces challenges of various kinds what we need is people like Raif who perceive the interrelations and developments around them and dare to speak up and share their ideas peacefully with the world. Because only like that positive progress is possible.

Now Raif needs the voices of all people in this world who consider human rights more important than profit and other more selfish issues, that are a sign of shortsightedness and unsustainability. Because after all Raif Badawi is being punished for standing for ideals that matter to us as well, they are already as much rooted in our society that we sometimes take for granted that they are respected. But cases such as the one of Raif Badawi, as well as many others, remind us that even in the 21st century it is not always the case that they are respected. This therefore shows us how important it is for us to speak up for these ideals. Now has come the time for us who have the possibility to do so, to stand on the side of the likeminded people who dare to share their points of view despite the risk of persecution. Because after all only together, united as one, we can find solutions bearable for all of us and put to and end the negative tendencies that can be found all over the world and which might in the end affect all of us. Raif Badawi and all other persecuted for being the conscious ones of their societies and after all simply all beings living on this planet deserve that we, too, achieve consciousness.

Based on thoughts written down in June 2015


„1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think“ by Raif Badawi, edited by Constantin Schreiber

„Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story“ by Ensaf Haidar and Andrea C Hoffmann

17th of June

This date does not only mark the anniversary of the People’s Uprising in East Germany – today is also the day on which Raif Badawi has spent three years in prison.

That’s why I have decided to dedicate another text to him. Due to the latest news from Saudi Arabia the situation though looks very differently compared to the one on the day when I started to write down the first thoughts to this text.

But in reality aside from the fact that now there is only a single possibility to set aside this sentence – an intervention by the king – to this day not much has changed. Raif Badawi has been in prison since three years now, which means that from this time on he hasn’t had much of a life anymore, at least none which deserves this name. The powerful and influential of his country have deprived this man already of three years of his life – three years that can’t be given back. And according to the sentence that now has become effective seven more are supposed to follow. That means if he will live to see them at all. Then if the death penalty on instalments, which hides its true character by hiding the name it actually deserves, is executed as intended, is that not guaranteed.

It is true – so far Raif Badawi hasn’t been flogged anymore – although it is not clear for which reasons. Until the morning of the 7th of June it had become an ordinariness to wait each Friday for that reassuring message, for many of us the fear has become less big than in the first weeks of January and February. The confirmation of the Supreme Court in Saudi Arabia has brought us back to the ground of reality and showed us that the risk is still there, in the same way as it was there in the second week of January this year and the reaction from official side haven’t been sufficient yet to achieve a release.

This is and stays the only acceptable solution. Although Raif Badawi hasn’t been hurt physically since the 9th of January, one has to consider what this uncertainty about what will happen now, if and when these remaining 950 lashes will be executed which reaches its peak each Friday again, now means to this young Arab and how nerve-racking that has to be for him. That is nothing else than psychological torture. After all since January he has been in an empty space without indications how the future will look like, no dates as tangible fixed points in immediate future and has to be prepared for the worst every single week. This fear increases of course even more due to said court decision; the situation appears to be more hopeless than ever.

Nevertheless there are still glimmers of hope. The Saudi government for example already can’t ignore the case anymore for a long time and finds itself constrained to repeat over and over again that the human rights are guaranteed in its country. The fact that despite the sentence and corresponding reports by domestic media the flogging hasn’t been executed last Friday suggests that the public opinion doesn’t go unheard.

That all is a good start. But now it is even more important to insist and stand up for a release of Raif Badawi more than ever – even if that means that our governments for once have to put their own economic interest on the bottom of the list.

Raif Badawi is a peaceful man, who is punished solely for having the courage to have his own opinion and to share it with the world around him even if he discusses topics which are taboo for certain not irrelevant population groups of his country. It is absolutely desirable that Raif Badawi can be soon reunited with his family and will be able to live a normal life. That also is the place where he deserves to be – with his wife and his children in the first place but also because that means that he would be able to speak out his thoughts without fear of further repression and to share them with people who are just as concerned about the fate of the world.

The original German version can be found here:


17. Juni

Dieses Datum bezeichnet nicht nur den Jahrestag des Volksaufstandes in der DDR – heute ist auch der Tag, an dem Raif Badawi drei Jahre im Gefängnis verbracht hat.

Deswegen habe ich beschlossen, ihm einen weiteren Text zu widmen. Allerdings sieht die Lage nun aufgrund der neusten Nachrichten aus Saudi Arabien nun deutlich anders aus, als an jenem Tag als ich meine ersten Gedanken zu diesem Text aufgeschrieben habe.

Doch effektiv hat sich abgesehen davon, dass nur eine einzige Möglichkeit, dieses Urteil nun noch aufzuheben, übriggeblieben ist – eine Intervention des Königs – bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt nichts geändert. Raif Badawi ist jetzt nunmehr seit 3 Jahren im Gefängnis, was bedeutet dass er seit diesem Zeitpunkt so gut wie kein Leben mehr hat, jedenfalls keines das diesen Namen verdient hätte. Die Mächtigen und Einflussreichen seines Landes haben diesem Mann bereits drei Jahre seines Lebens gestohlen – drei Jahre, die ihm nie mehr zurückgegeben werden können. Und gemäss dem nun endgültig rechtskräftig gewordenen Urteil sollen weitere sieben folgen. Das heisst, wenn er diese überhaupt noch erleben wird. Denn falls die Todesstrafe auf Raten, die ihren wahren Charakter verbirgt, in dem sie nicht diesen Namen trägt, der ihr eigentlich zusteht, tatsächlich so wie vorgesehen vollzogen werden sollte, ist dies nicht gewährleistet.

Es stimmt – bis jetzt wurde Raif Badawi nicht mehr ausgepeitscht – aus welchen Gründen auch immer. Bis zum 7. Juni war es für uns schon zur Alltäglichkeit geworden, am Freitag auf eine beruhigende Nachricht zu warten, die Angst war für viele von uns längst nicht mehr so gross, wie in den ersten Wochen im Januar und Februar. Die Bestätigung des Urteils durch das oberste Gericht in Saudi Arabien haben uns aber zurück auf den Boden der Realität gebracht und uns gezeigt, dass das Risiko noch besteht, genauso wie es dies in der zweiten Januarwoche dieses Jahres getan hat und das die Reaktionen von offizieller Seite bis jetzt noch nicht ausgereicht haben, um tatsächlich eine Freilassung zu bewirken.

Dies ist und bleibt die einzige akzeptable Lösung. Es wurde Raif Badawi seit dem 9. Januar zwar kein neuer körperlicher Schaden zugefügt, aber man muss sich auch überlegen, was diese Ungewissheit, wie es jetzt weitergehen soll, ob und wann diese restlichen 950 Peitschenhiebe nun ausgeführt werden, die jede Woche ums neue am Freitag ihren Höhepunkt erreicht, nun genau für diesen jungen Araber bedeutet und wie sehr das an den Nerven zerren muss. Dies ist nichts anderes als psychische Folter. Schliesslich befindet er sich seit Januar in einem luftleeren Raum ohne Anhaltspunkte wie die Zukunft aussehen wird, keine Daten als greifbare Festpunkte in unmittelbarer Zukunft und muss jede Woche auf das Schlimmste gefasst sein. Diese Angst vergrössert sich natürlich durch besagtes Gerichtsurteil noch erst recht, die Situation erscheint aussichtsloser denn je.

Trotzdem gibt es auch weiterhin gewisse Hoffnungsschimmer. Beispielsweise kann die saudische Regierung diesen Fall schon seit längerem nicht mehr ignorieren, und sieht sich gezwungen, immer wieder zu wiederholen, dass die Menschenrechte in ihrem Land gewährleistet seien. Die Tatsache, dass das Auspeitschen trotz der Bestätigung des Urteils und entsprechenden Berichten durch inländische Medien letzten Freitag nicht vollzogen wurde, spricht ebenfalls dafür, dass die öffentliche Meinung doch nicht ungehört bleibt.

Dies alles ist ein guter Anfang. Es ist jetzt aber umso bedeutender, beharrlich zu bleiben und sich nun erst recht für die Freilassung Raif Badawis einzusetzen – auch wenn dies bedeutet, dass unsere Regierungen ihre eigenen wirtschaftlichen Interessen für einmal in den Hintergrund stellen müssen.

Raif Badawi ist ein friedlicher Mensch, der einzig und allein dafür bestraft wird, den Mut zu haben, seine eigene Meinung zu haben und diese mit der Welt um ihn herum zu teilen, auch wenn er dabei Themen anspricht, die für gewisse nicht irrelevante Bevölkerungsschichten seines Landes tabu sind. Es ist also absolut wünschenswert, dass Raif Badawi bald mit seiner Familie vereint sein wird und ein normales Leben führen kann. Denn dort ist sein Platz wo er hingehört – bei seiner Frau und seinen Kindern in allererster Linie, aber auch weil das bedeutet dass er dann seine Gedanken aussprechen könnte ohne Angst vor weiterer Repression und sie mit vielen Menschen, die genauso besorgt sind um das Schicksal der Welt, teilen könnte.

Hier geht es zur englischen Version des Textes:


One year

One year, that’s a lot of time. When I ask myself how my life has looked like one year ago, the answer is rather simple. I was in the middle of my final exams at the gymnasium. When I look at this time which passed since then, I soon discover that my life now looks completely different. This year brought me new friends, new inspiration both for my story as well as for my life in general, different challenges, problems, sorrows, but also new motivation, new energy, new priorities… To say it shortly: I stand at a different point in life.

But there are people whose life at first glance hasn’t changed that much. Raif Badawi is one of them. He still is in the same prison cell, he still has to bear the same heavy weight of this incredibly harsh sentence which was pronounced one year ago. And despite this situation which seems so hopeless, he hasn’t given up which makes me so impressed.

When I looked at it closer, I realized that despite the sentence is still the same, indeed something has changed. Over the last months a lot of good and caring people heard about Raif’s fate and were deeply moved if not shocked and decided to show in some way their sympathy towards him and tried to contribute in some way to his release.

In the occasion of the anniversary of the pronunciation of this sentence which leaves us without words still today, I would like to write some lines for Raif and those who are near him:

Whatever the future will bring now, we will think of you. So whenever anxiety or despair comes over you and makes you feel lonely or weak, remember that you are not alone, there are people from all over the world with different beliefs, different opinions, which are united by the concern about your fate. They think of you each single day and give all that is in their power to make the impossible possible. It is the dream of us all to see you united and being able to share your thoughts without any fear of repression.


The same positive energy I also dedicate to all those in this world who are in a similar situation as Raif and his family. I am totally aware that there are many others who are condemned to similar suffering because they simply expressed themselves peacefully. Some I know almost as well as Raif, of many others I don’t know even the name.

Therefore I would like to end this text with my most quoted line of my favorite musical of which there is a song for so many feelings I have in my heart:

“There is a flame that never dies,

Even the darkest night will end

And the sun will rise.”

Les Misérables – Finale

May 2015

Why it is important to stand up for Raif Badawi

Every day in the war zones there are hundreds of people dying. Many others each day are tortured, mistreated or are behind bars because they have insisted on their right of freedom of expression. Why should we, considering this situation, concentrate exactly on Raif Badawi? Aren’t there more important things on this world which should be resolved?

For weeks I’ve occupied myself with Raif Badawi’s case and try now to find answers to these questions.

In the past weeks I’ve been told several times that the question arises why one tries to achieve the release of a single man, while in Syria and elsewhere there are dozens of innocent people being killed each day and in China, North Korea and elsewhere human rights abuses are the order of the day. Although it is no longer just about the life of a single man. Raif Badawi has become the symbol for freedom of expression. After all he has only criticized the system he lives in. He did that in a peaceful and non-violent ways as he founded a discussion forum on the internet. The reaction of the Saudi judiciary turned out all the harder, which through this has become the symbol of arbitrariness.

Raif Badawi’s case has opened the eyes of many people in the West. Not all of them were aware that the strategic ally of the USA and the West is a dictatorship which doesn’t allow any criticism of the system, no demands for more democratization and even less any different interpretation of Islam than its own. Some people I have talked with thought that Saudi Arabia has a similar legal system than the states in Europe. In reality in this country reigns one of the strictest applications of Islamic law. Methods of punishment such as beheading or flogging are the order of the day. In this connection Raif Badawis case has indeed had some effect. Thanks to the attention dedicated to his fate the Western public has learned about the general human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. We should not forget that Raif Badawi is far not the only one. Some organizations speak about thousands of political prisoners only in Saudi Arabia. But how should we stand up for someone of whom we don’t know even the name? There always need to be cases which stand symbolically for the other ones as well. That was the same about Nelson Mandela in South Africa and also Václav Havel stood for many others in Czechoslovakia. They too were not the only ones. In this case it is Raif Badawi who is given this part.

To criticize the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean that we agree about all procedures at home. The right to freedom of expression does for example not mean that one can insult his environment at one’s discretion. But that is a completely different story again. To advocate for a release of Raif Badawi and other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia is neither based on hate towards Islam or other religions. Who treats his critics in such a way, inevitably causes resistance, as this methods of punishment evoke memories of past times which we in Europe left behind a long time ago. Even more horrible is that elsewhere they are still the order of the day. That doesn’t have to do much with Islam as such, that would be the same in any other case as well. No religion, no ideology and no other reason justifies such human rights abuses. Everyone should be allowed to believe in whatever he wants to as long as he doesn’t do violence to anyone else.

Another argument, which is also often used by politicians who advise against an intervention in the case of Raif Badawi, is that in a time in which there are so many conflicts in Middle East we should keep Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally as it is a comparatively stable country and the case of Raif Badawi is a too small disruptive factor to risk the good relations. In my opinion one should no longer look away when it comes to human rights abuses in Arabic countries. That would not be the first time in history when one looked away for too long. It doesn’t concern Raif Badawi alone, but thousands of other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia as well as in the neighboring countries. And then there are the women who are suppressed mercilessly in Saudi Arabia. Should we really continue to ignore this and happily proceed in exporting arms in these countries? One should also not forget that this important strategic ally in the struggle against terrorism ideologically seen has something in common with the Islamic State. And the new laws, whose original purpose is to prevent crimes related to terrorism, are used primarily used to silence critics of the regime.

From the above mentioned can be concluded that it will be important also in the future to stand up for Raif Badawi, as this Saudi Arabian blogger stands for much more than his personal fate. He stands for freedom of speech and for many other unjustly persecuted people in this world. Who just watches any longer, how injustice happens in Saudi Arabia reduces himself to an accomplice of said regime. To get involved for Raif Badawi does mean though to stand up for said persecuted people all over the world just the same. To save all the people of this world who are in danger is virtually impossible. One has to start somewhere. And Raif Badawi’s case is a good initial point.

You find the original text in German here:


In nome dell’amore

Stamattina ho ascoltato In nome dell’amore di Paolo Meneguzzi, una canzone che conosco da anni, che in parte so cantare a memoria. Ma proprio stamattina l’ho interpretata in un modo completamente diverso.

Come stai
come sto
maledettamente bene
penso a te penso a noi e non vivo più
forse sei abile
a nascondere il dolore
forse no non lo so
ma ti aspetterò
guardami sono qui
tra l’inferno e il paradiso
non so più che anno è
cerco solo te
tutto sa di follia
ma è solo malinconia
vedo la realtà e vorrei che fosse una bugia
in nome dell’amore l’alba brucerà le porte della tua prigione
in nome dell’amore fai la cosa giusta, sì la cosa giusta anche se fa male
un giorno un’ora vorrei vederti ancora
un raggio di sole, in nome dell’amore

All’improvviso mi pareva di sentire i pensieri di Ensaf rivolti a suo marito. Lo so, ormai penso a Raif Badawi facendo qualsiasi cosa. Non è la prima volta che mi succede ascoltando una canzone. In ogni caso adoro la canzone ancora di più rispetto a prima, perché questa parte che ho citato qui rispecchia benissimo la situazione di Ensaf e Raif.

Why I started to get involved for Raif Badawi

I remember well that Thursday evening in January. It was just an ordinary evening like all the others. The train was packed with people, many of them were reading the free newspaper Blick am Abend. I don’t like the level of that newspaper very much but this time I was really caught by an article, only a small one. I don’t remember much of it anymore. But it was back then when I learned that a certain Raif Badawi is in prison in Saudi Arabia and should be flogged the following day just because he dared to express peacefully his opinion. The author, whose name I don’t know anymore, described this flogging as a “death penalty on instalments”, so I already saw him dying before my eyes. For the rest of the journey I couldn’t concentrate on anything else and even on the way home from the train station I was only speaking about Raif Badawi. It was in this moment when I sang for the first time the Finale of Les Misérables. And back then I meant it in its original meaning. That even if you suffered a lot in your life and eventually died, you might still have a better life in the Garden of the Lord.

Later I realized given he was still alive, what he is still today, I should get involved for his release. Why was it exactly him who caused me to get involved? Actually I can’t say it with a hundred percent certainty, it was just my heart who chose it to be like that. I just couldn’t stay indifferent. Probably it is because of that corporal punishment. Before reading about Raif’s case I hadn’t even known that there are countries who still speak out such punishments. We often hear about torture of innocent people, which prisoners of conscience are, but normally such mistreatment happens behind thick prison walls. What is even more appalling in this case is that it happens as part of the legislation of that country and is executed publically. Therefore after that day I could do nothing else than do everything that is in my power to help to save Raif Badawi.

Another day of these three months which I remember well is the day when I went the first time to a vigil in Bern, I had a really strong positive feeling. I realized that I am not alone fighting for this cause, that there are others who share the same ideals and I felt deeply connected to them although I had never seen them before. This gave me even more motivation to continue being involved for human rights in Saudi Arabia. I signed up for Twitter and I am raising awareness among all the people I know.

In these ten weeks or so I got to know many impressive people, above all those who we are standing with, Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair, as well as their families, as well as amazing people from all over the world. Most of them I have never met personally, not even the two most important ones, those we are actually involved for. But nevertheless there is something that connects us all which is difficult to be described. Maybe something like the hope for a better world, in a time in which one reads about terror, war, death in the news all the time. In such a time where you think hatred and other negative feelings would prevail (I mean the very reason why we are doing this all is because of hate and incomprehension towards different attitudes which even ends up in violence) I have witnessed so many positive feelings, so much love towards other people. Those feelings gave me so much positive energy which helped me even through the difficult situation where I thought I might lose hope because I realized that maybe what we all are doing still might not be enough to save Raif, that maybe he will die all the same. But I didn’t give up, I can’t stay silent anymore when injustice happens. And I know Raif needs us now more than ever. We shall continue to speak up for him, because if we don’t we just do what those in power in Saudi Arabia want us to do: to forget about Raif and go back to our daily concerns. But this is not the case. Not for me at least.

Because all this has given a new sense to my life. Speaking about human rights doesn’t not mean anymore that I am simply talking about what the characters in the story I am writing would do in communist Czechoslovakia. It has become something real, it’s not just fiction anymore. I believe that we all together can make a difference here when we speak up for human rights. Even if they are a matter of course for us here, especially our generation. We should be grateful to have the opportunity to be able to express our opinion freely. And we should use this opportunity not only to comment the dresses which some celebrities wear, we should speak up for those who don’t speak up, those who are prevented from doing so and those who don’t dare to express their opinion. We should raise awareness about cases like Raif’s one. We should share the ideas of thinkers like Raif who are too far ahead for the environment they live in. Because like that we make sure that the main intention of the system which is repressing them is not fulfilled, which is to silence them. During these weeks I have realized that I would like to make my contribution to this as well. Because I believe that there is a flame that never dies, that even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. That is what the song says that I sang on that first evening. Why don’t make it possible also for the life on earth?

Lashes for Freedom [One of the best articles on Raif Badawi that I’ve seen so far]

When I read this article yesterday I was truly impressed. So I thought I should translate it into English to make it available for more people who are concerned about Raif Badawi’s fate.

All rights to this text belong to Regina Spöttl from Amnesty International Germany and the article was first published in German here: https://www.amnesty.de/journal/2015/april/schlaege-fuer-die-freiheit

In Saudi Arabia the blogger Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 1000 lashes because he spoke out for liberal reforms. In the kingdom applies an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam as religion of state – who protests against it, has to expect draconian penalties.

Midday was approaching on the 18th Rabi al-Awwal of the year 1436 AH, when guards in uniform brought a young man in chains on the square in front of the Al-Jafali mosque in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. When the faithful had arrived in swarms after the Friday prayer, one of the guards hit with a long whip fifty time the back and the legs of the young man, who endured the torture wordlessly and visibly in pain. After the fiftieth lash the crowd scanned “Allahu Akbar” and dispersed.

What on the first glance appears like a medieval torture scene, didn’t take place many centuries ago, but in the 21st century. Because the 18th Rabi al-Awwal 1436 describes a date of the Islamic moon calendar and equals the 9th of January 2015.

The young man who was beaten up publically in front of the mosque is called Raif Badawi and is 31 years old. He has a wife and three children who live in exile in Canada and who haven’t seen their husband and father for three years. Raif Badawi was sentenced on 7th of May 2014 by a Criminal Court to ten years of prison, 1000 lashes, a fine of converted 195’000 euros and a subsequent travel ban of ten years. Over a period of twenty weeks he shall be flogged with 50 lashes always after the Friday prayer.

His crime: He had founded the online forum “Free Saudi Liberals”, a website with a blog, on which he exchanged his ideas about a more modern, more human, more tolerant Saudi Arabia with other courageous people.

Topics like politics, human rights, freedom of expression and religion, culture and the separation of religion and state as key to more freedom were discussed there. He thought the time is ripe for urgently needed reforms for a more liberal kingdom. As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas”, Raif Badawi wrote in his blog which now is shut down, “you will find hundreds of fatwas (Islamic legal opinions) that accuse him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”

He even took another step forwards when he said: “The separation of state and religion is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world into the first world.” Every human being should have the right to choose freely his religion. Badawi sees religion as the personal spiritual relation between the individual and its creator and says that secular right like for example traffic rules and labour law cannot be deduced from religion.

In Saudi Arabia, according to Raif Badawi, the government claims the monopoly on the only and commonly valid truth. Liberalism is considered as basic evil, all people who belong to other religions are viewed as infidels and apostates. “But how can we have this attitude and have normal relations to the six billion people on this world of which four and a half billion are no Muslims?”

With that Raif Badawi has shaken at the to the very foundations of the autocratic Saudi Arabian state, which since the conquest of the Arab Peninsula and the first state foundation by Mohammed Ibn al-Saud in the 18th century is based on two columns: the royal house of the al-Saud and the “Council of the highest scholars of religion” (Ulama), which leads back to the religious founder Mohammed Abd al-Wahab.

Both balance out each other in this power structure. As long as the royal house maintains the strict ultraconservative form of the Wahabite Islam – which most of the time is only achievable by suppression – and as long as the Quran is the constitution of the country and the Sharia the unchallenged law, as long as that the clergy will not question the monarchy of the al-Saud.

Reciprocally the Ulama supports the royal house, for example by legitimating unpopular prohibitions with often absurd justifications and by defaming and obstructing science and research. Like that women who drive a car allegedly risk to become infertile and to lose their virginity.

In September 2011 Saudi clerics seriously claimed that there are Sharia astronomers whose knowledge about the universe are the only true and right ones. According to that a short time ago a lecturer declared in a course that the Earth doesn’t rotate but stands still. Who dares to criticise the clergy will be tried of “Defamation of Islam” and condemned to long sentences. Raif Badawi had among others made fun about the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”, the notorious religious police, and asked for reforms. The consequences are known.

Saudi Arabia is the country with the probably most rigid restrictions of the human right to religious freedom. The Wahabite Islam is religion of state; already the Shiite Muslims who are living mainly in the East of the country are likely called “infidels” and discriminated in daily life. The practise of any other religion is prohibited and is punished. Unlike the other Gulf States in Saudi Arabia you look in vain for Christian churches, synagogues or Hindu temples. Even the possess of a Bible or a Star of David is punishable.

No wonder thus, that Raif Badawi’s call for a secularization of the country made all alarm bells ring and had to be inhibited immediately. This explains also why the operation of a webpage and the writing of a blog were punished in a such draconian way.

Of Raif Badawi an example had to be made, also to show the limits to many users of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Because the cyberspace meanwhile has become a hard nut to crack for the censors, not every website can be controlled, many Facebook posts slide through the tight net of surveillance. “Twitter is our parliament” recently said a young Saudi hopefully.

The wish for reforms, more liberties and openness towards the world is big in the country. The Saudi Arabian women who still need the consent of a male legal guardian if they make an important decision, wish for equal rights and self-determination. And they finally want to drive a car.
But also here the authority strikes out without mercy. Women who are caught at the wheel of a car are put under arrest and can be charged and sentenced under the new antiterrorism law, also to lashes.

Driving a car thus is considered as a terrorist act, nevertheless the women don’t let themselves prevent from doing so any longer. The 21st century has arrived also in Saudi Arabia and the very young society – two thirds of the population are under 25 years old – wants to participate without any obstruction and finally get the many restrictions and bans out of the way.

Government critics and peaceful reformers however are in danger and often pay a high price for courageously advocating for freedom and human rights. For years the Saudi Arabian Government suffocates any criticism of dissidents. Almost all founding member of the human rights organisation ACPRA which now is banned were condemned to prison terms up to ten years. Notable reformers and human rights advocates, among them lawyers, former judges and university professors, are serving long sentences after unfair trials.

In February 2015 an appeal court confirmed the judgement against human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, Raif Badawi’s legal counsel and brother-in-law. He has to go to prison for 15 years because he had founded the human rights organization “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia” in 2008, which documented human rights abuses. Moreover he had defended many human rights activists in court. As many other prisoners, also Waleed Abu al-Khair had been tortured and abused under arrest.

Thus Raif Badawi is not the only nonviolent political prisoner in Saudi Arabia, probably the most known at the moment though. His fate has triggered a wave of indignation and compassion in the whole world. Hundred thousands of signatures so far could have been delivered at demonstrations and vigils in front of the Embassies of Saudi Arabia around the globe. The interest about his case is still overwhelming and the social networks are full with statements of solidarity for Raif Badawi and his family and appeals to the Saudi Arabian government to suspend the remaining 950 lashes and to cancel the verdict. Politicians from all over the world campaign for the blogger.

The good news: Raif Badawi hasn’t had to suffer any further lashes since the 9th of January 2015. The corporal punishment has been suspended temporarily, due to “medical reasons”, as it was stated. His case has been send back from the Supreme Court back to the Criminal Court in Jeddah. The process thus could be reopened, a date for a judicial hearing has not been set yet though.

As long as the verdict hasn’t been cancelled, Raif Badawi still is in highest danger. The cruel scene in front of the Al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah could repeat itself at any time on one of the coming Fridays. And not enough with that. At a resumption of the trial at the Criminal Court in Jeddah, Raif Badawi is in danger to be again charged with apostasy for which he might be sentenced to death.

Unless the new Saudi Arabian king Salman pardons Raif Badawi as part of an amnesty to his assumption of office and orders his immediate and unconditional release. Then the dream of Raif’s wife Ensaf Haidar and the three children maybe still could become reality: that they finally can take their husband and father in their arms again at the airport of Montréal.

Warum es wichtig ist, sich für Raif Badawi einzusetzen

Jeden Tag sterben in den Kriegsgebieten hunderte Menschen. Viele weitere werden tagtäglich gefoltert, misshandelt oder sitzen hinter Gittern, weil sie auf ihr Recht auf freie Meinungsäusserung bestanden haben. Warum sollte man angesichts dieser Situation sich ausgerechnet auf Raif Badawi konzentrieren und sich für dessen Freilassung einsetzen. Gibt es nicht Wichtigeres, dass es auf dieser Welt zu lösen gilt?

Seit Wochen beschäftige ich mich mit Raif Badawis Fall und versuche nun Antworten auf diese Fragen zu finden.

In den vergangenen Wochen habe ich öfters zu hören bekommen, dass sich die Frage stellt, warum man sich so für die Freilassung eines Einzelnen bemüht, während doch in Syrien und anderswo jeden Tag dutzende unschuldige Menschen sterben und in China, Nordkorea und anderswo Menschenrechtsverletzungen genauso an der Tagesordnung stehen. Dabei geht es längst nicht nur mehr um das Leben dieses einzelnen Mannes. Raif Badawi ist zum Symbol für die Meinungsfreiheit geworden. Schliesslich hat er bloss das System kritisiert, in dem er lebt. Er hat dies auf eine friedliche und gewaltlose Art getan, in dem er auf dem Internet ein Diskussionsforum gegründet hat. Umso härter fiel die Reaktion der saudischen Justiz aus, die durch diese zum Symbol der Willkür geworden ist.

Raif Badawis Fall hat vielen Menschen im Westen die Augen geöffnet. Nicht allen war bewusst, dass es sich bei dem strategischen Verbündeten der USA und des Westens um eine Diktatur handelt, die keinerlei Kritik am System, keine Forderungen für mehr Demokratisierung und erst recht keine andere Auslegung des Islams als die ihrige duldet. Manche, mit denen ich gesprochen habe, haben gedacht, Saudi Arabien habe eine ähnliche Rechtsordnung wie die Staaten in Europa. In Wirklichkeit herrscht in diesem Land aber eine der striktesten Interpretationen der Scharia. Bestrafungsmethoden wie Enthauptungen oder Auspeitschungen gehören hier zur Tagesordnung. In diesem Zusammenhang hat Raif Badawis Fall tatsächlich einiges bewirkt. Dank der Aufmerksamkeit, die seinem Schicksal bisher gewidmet wurde, hat die westliche Öffentlichkeit auch von der allgemeinen Menschenrechtslage in Saudi Arabien erfahren. Denn wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass Raif Badawi bei weitem nicht alleine ist. Manche Organisationen sprechen von Tausenden von politischen Gefangenen allein in Saudi Arabien. Dazu kommen noch diejenigen aus den benachbarten Ländern. Doch wie soll man sich für die Freilassung von Menschen einsetzen, deren Namen man nicht einmal kennt? Es braucht immer Fälle, die symbolisch für alle anderen stehen. Das war bei Nelson Mandela in Südafrika so und genauso war es auch bei Václav Havel in der Tschechoslowakei. Auch sie waren nicht die Einzigen. In diesem Fall ist es Raif Badawi, der diese Rolle zugeteilt bekommen hat.

Die Menschenrechtslage in Saudi Arabien zu kritisieren bedeutet noch lange nicht, dass man mit allen Vorgängen in der Heimat einverstanden ist. Das Recht auf freie Meinungsäusserung bedeutet beispielsweise noch lange nicht, dass man seine Umgebung nach freiem Belieben beschimpfen darf. Aber das ist schon wieder ganz eine andere Geschichte. Sich für die Freilassung Raif Badawis und anderen Gewissensgefangenen in Saudi Arabien einzusetzen beruht auch nicht auf dem Hass gegenüber dem Islam oder anderen Religionen. Wer so mit seinen Kritikern umgeht, ruft unausweichlich Widerstand hervor, denn diese Bestrafungsmethoden erinnern an vergangene Zeiten, die wir hier in Europa längst hinter uns gelassen haben. Umso schrecklicher ist es zu hören, dass sie anderswo noch zur Tagesordnung gehören. Das hat nichts mit dem Islam an sich zu tun, das wäre in jedem anderen Fall auch so. Keine Religion, keine Ideologie, auch kein anderer Beweggrund rechtfertigt solche Menschenrechtsverletzungen. Jeder sollte glauben dürfen an was auch immer er will, solange er deswegen keinem anderen Menschen Gewalt antut.

Ein weiteres Argument, das auch von Politikern häufig gebraucht wird, die von einer Intervention im Fall Raif Badawi abraten, ist, dass es wichtig sei in einer Zeit, in der es so viele Konflikte im Nahen Osten gibt, Saudi Arabien als strategischen Verbündeten zu behalten, schliesslich handle es sich hiermit um ein vergleichsmässig stabiles Land und der Fall Raif Badawi sei ein zu kleiner Störfaktor, um diese guten Beziehungen zu riskieren. Meiner Meinung nach sollte man nicht länger wegschauen, was die Menschenrechtsverletzungen in den arabischen Ländern betrifft. Das wäre nicht das erste Mal in der Geschichte, dass man zu lange weggesehen hätte. Schliesslich betrifft es nicht nur Raif Badawi alleine, sondern auch tausende weitere Gewissensgefangenen allein in Saudi Arabien, sowie diejenigen in den Nachbarländern. Und da wären da noch die Frauen, die in Saudi Arabien gnadenlos unterdrückt werden. Sollte man dies wirklich weiterhin einfach ignorieren, fröhlich weiter Waffen dorthin exportieren? Man sollte auch nicht vergessen, dass dieser strategisch so wichtige Verbündete im Kampf gegen den Terror ideologisch gesehen doch so einige Gemeinsamkeiten mit dem Islamischen Staat hat. Und die neuen Gesetze, deren eigentlicher Zweck die Verhinderung von Terrorverbrechen wäre, werden in erster Hand dazu verwendet Regimekritiker zum Schweigen zu bringen.

Daraus lässt sich schliessen, dass es auch in Zukunft wichtig ist, sich für Raif Badawi einzusetzen. Denn dieser saudische Blogger steht für weitaus mehr als für sein persönliches Schicksal. Er steht für die Meinungsfreiheit und für viele andere unrechtmässig verfolgte Menschen auf dieser Welt. Wer weiter zusieht, wie in Saudi Arabien Unrecht geschieht, macht sich selbst zum Komplizen dieses Regimes. Sich für Raif Badawi einzusetzen bedeutet aber auch sich für ebendiese verfolgten Menschen überall auf der Welt genauso zu engagieren. Alle Menschen dieser Welt, die in Gefahr sind, auf einmal zu retten ist ein Ding der Unmöglichkeit. Man muss aber irgendwo beginnen. Und Raif Badawi ist ein guter Anfang.