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NEW YORK (March 11, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes the release of Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer and creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. Earlier today, Badawi was released from jail after serving 10 years and 1,000 lashes on charges related to “insulting Islam” in Saudi Arabia. Although Badawi was released from jail, he is not free, as he remains subject to a 10-year travel ban. This travel ban bars him from seeing his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children who reside in Canada. Travel bans have been widely criticized as de facto prison sentences imposed by the Saudi regime on human rights activists. 

“We are extremely happy to hear of Raif’s release, particularly because this gives hope that we will be able to again read his moving literature, after a horrific 10-year imprisonment that included suffering the medieval brutality of receiving 50 lashes in public before hundreds of people,” said HRF Chief Legal Officer Javier El-Hage. “To be taken seriously about bringing any semblance of political openness, the regime led by Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) would have to also release countless other dissidents who remain wrongfully detained, including Raif’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, who’s in jail for the bogus crime of ‘inciting public opinion’ merely for having defended Raif. But we have seen no signs that MBS is interested in this,” added El-Hage.

In 2006, Badawi launched an online forum called Free Saudi Liberals to encourage the discussion of social issues in Saudi Arabia. In March 2008, Badawi was arrested and released twice under Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which criminalizes the production of material impinging on public order and religious values. In early 2009, authorities imposed a travel ban on him and froze his bank accounts. On June 17, 2012, Badawi was arrested under Saudi Arabia’s “Anti-Cyber Crime Law,” and authorities shut down his website shortly thereafter. 

Badawi’s Free Saudi Liberals website was devoted to educating civil society of their rights and duties, and promoting open dialogue on a wide variety of issues, such as human rights, freedom of expression, tolerance, the concept of liberalism, and the influence of religion on politics. Badawi’s online posts included support for freedom of expression, a thoughtful conception of liberalism, and open support for women’s rights a set of ideas that are considered dangerous and criminal under the regime that rules Saudi Arabia.

“While we are so relieved that Raif is physically out of jail, like so many other Saudi citizens who have fought for basic rights in the country, Raif effectively remains a prisoner under this egregious ongoing 10-year travel ban. HRF calls on the Saudi authorities to drop the travel ban against Raif and to allow him to be reunited with his family in Canada,” said HRF Senior Fellow Bethany Alhaidari. “Raif’s release from jail should not be mistaken by outside observers as progress out of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government remains an absolute monarchy and should be held accountable for wrongfully depriving Raif of his liberty, safety, and a decade of involvement in his children’s lives.” 

In 2019, HRF, jointly with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, sent an urgent appeal to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, documenting the abuses suffered by Badawi and calling for his prompt release from prison, due to his deteriorating health conditions.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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