“Raif à Sherbrooke, Raif à Sherbrooke.”
That was the rallying cry of about two dozen protesters in downtown Montreal Thursday during a vigil for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
Badawi might be free from jail, but he is still not free to reunite with his family who live in Sherbrooke, Que.
Activists at the vigil say they want to pressure authorities to make sure he can finally come home.
“It’s incredibly cruel, unjust,” said Paul Ahmani.
For Alexandra Heidrich, it’s important to show support to both Raif and his family.
“It’s been a terrible 10 years. He hasn’t seen his children, his wife, so we have to keep working for him,” Heidrich said.
There are several conditions on Badawi’s release, including a 10-year travel ban and a hefty fine amounting to about $340,000.
“It’s important just to show Saudi Arabia that we still care,” said Colette Lelièvre, an Amnesty International campaign organizer working on Badawi’s case.
“That we will get more mobilized if after a certain point this doesn’t end up in something positive, like him being able to get out of Saudi Arabia.”
Badawi was arrested and detained by Saudi Arabian authorities in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam”.
He is a blogger and human rights activist who encouraged debate on religious and political issues in the country, despite the restricted civic space.
The Canadian government has been using diplomacy to secure Badawi’s release but critics say more can be done.
“We’re asking the federal government to make the embassy and consular services available for Raif, even if he is not a Canadian citizen,” said Alexandre Boulerice, NDP MP for Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie.
“We want to put pressure diplomatic pressure and maybe commercial pressure because we’re selling arms to Saudi Arabia.”
In January 2021, the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion to grant Badawi Canadian citizenship. The motion was brought forward by Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe.
He believes granting Canadian citizenship to Badawi is key in securing his full release.
“It will allow him to have consular services, which is very important because right now, he cannot receive those services since he’s not Canadian,” Brunelle-Duceppe said.
People at the vigil have a plea for Saudi authorities.
“Stop it, just stop it,” begged Heidrich.
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said they can’t speak to any specifics related to individual cases in order to respect the privacy, security and safety of those individuals.
“The Government of Canada is pleased that Mr. Badawi has been released from prison. We have consistently advocated on his behalf and will continue to use every opportunity to do so,” wrote Peter Liang. “His well-being is foremost in our minds.”
Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada told Global News in an email, that hey want to see Badawi reunited with his family.
“We have raised and continue to raise Mr. Badawi’s case with Saudi Arabia at the highest levels and we have repeatedly called for leniency to be granted,” wrote James Emmanuel Wanki, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
Wanki added the department continues to follow the case closely.