Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi granted honorary Montreal citizenship

Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal. .
Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The City of Montreal made Saudi blogger Raif Badawi an honorary citizen on Monday, voting unanimously to award the distinction to the father of three who has been languishing in jail for nearly six years.

A ceremony attended by Mayor Valerie Plante took place without the blogger’s wife present.

READ MORE: Sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi released in Saudi Arabia

Plante explained a scheduling snafu prevented Ensaf Haidar from attending the brief ceremony, but Haidar was in the spectators’ gallery later when councillors voted to grant the citizenship.

Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who had presented the motion alongside the opposition Ensemble Montreal, said he is hopeful the vote will carry the weight necessary to get other cities to add their support and keep up pressure to get Badawi freed.

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WATCH BELOW: Protest in support of Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi stage protest on fifth-year anniversary of his detention
Raif Badawi stage protest on fifth-year anniversary of his detention

Rotrand said he has also received assurances the provincial and federal governments would ratchet up the pressure.

“We want Saudi Arabia to know we are not going away, that there will be a political cost and an ongoing cost and the movement is not going to die out but grow larger over time,” Rotrand told a news conference.

READ MORE: Blogger Raif Badawi’s supporters call on Trudeau to do more

Montreal wouldn’t be the first Quebec jurisdiction to grant Badawi the distinction — Sherbrooke, where his wife Ensaf Haidar and children have lived for the past few years, and the Montreal suburb of Hampstead have done the same.

Badawi, who is not a Canadian citizen, was jailed in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and fined the equivalent of $300,000 for criticizing Saudi Arabian clerics.

He received 50 of them in January 2015 during a public flogging but is not believed to have received any since then.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec helps Badawi’s immigration application

Badawi’s sentence has drawn widespread international condemnation, and Amnesty International has called on successive federal governments to do more to free him.

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Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler, on hand for Monday’s announcement, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the matter directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sought clemency and a pardon for Badawi in April.

“He more than just asked, he called for the release of Raif Badawi and his right to be reunited with his family in Quebec,” said Cotler, an international human rights lawyer who has pushed for Badawi’s release.

READ MORE: Advocates for jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi hold rally in Montreal

When the Saudi royal was in Washington, Cotler presented him with a legal brief about Badawi based on Islamic law and Saudi law.

He said the crown prince told him he would consider the brief.

Haidar said it has been difficult getting information out of Saudi Arabia. A few months ago, she received word her husband was on a list for a potential pardon.

She believed it might come before Ramadan, but it didn’t materialize and she says Badawi’s morale is quite low as he awaits news.

Meanwhile, she says she is still holding out hope.

READ MORE: Supporters of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi fear flogging set to resume

“Every year I start with hope: I hope he’ll be with us at Christmas, I hope he’ll be with us on holiday,” Haidar said. “But until now, I haven’t received good news.”

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June 17 will mark six years in jail for Badawi.

“This year, it’s enough,” Haidar said. “Six years, it’s enough for us, enough for Raif too.”

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Haidar is to get her Canadian citizenship in the coming days and Cotler says that’s a positive thing.

“Any action of that kind would signify the importance the country attaches to Raif’s freedom,” he said.