Liberals accused of ignoring unanimous motion to grant Canadian citizenship to jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

Activists demonstrate outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy against the recent Saudi court ruling that upheld a previous verdict of ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi on June 11, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.

Opposition MPs are accusing the Liberal government of ignoring a unanimous motion in the House of Commons to grant citizenship to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who is languishing in jail.

“It seems to me the government isn’t taking this file seriously, and it disappoints me greatly,” Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe said in French in an interview.

Brunelle-Duceppe said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino didn’t oppose the motion when it was presented in the House on Jan. 27. He then wrote to Mendicino on Feb. 16 expressing concern that the government had not yet moved to follow through on the motion. A month later he has still not heard back.

Badawi has one year left in his 10-year sentence, for hosting a blog that was critical of aspects of the Saudi Arabian regime. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, came to Canada as a refugee, and she and their three children are now Canadian citizens living in Sherbrooke, Que.

In an emailed statement, NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said the Canadian government should “put maximum pressure on the Saudi government to see that Raif Badawi is finally released and act on the House resolution to grant him citizenship to aid in this effort.”

Brunelle-Duceppe argued granting Badawi citizenship would give him access to Canadian consular services, and would help him leave the country after he is released, when he’ll be subject to a 10-year travel ban.

According to Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal cabinet minister who is part of Badawi’s legal team, it would also give added weight to Canada’s calls for his release, both when it comes to public opinion and in bilateral and multilateral relations. “We will then also be making representations on behalf of a person who is a Canadian citizen,” he explained in an interview.

But the Liberal government doesn’t seem to be convinced extending citizenship to Badawi is the right step to take. A government source said because Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, they would likely continue to see him as Saudi, not as Canadian.

The source also said there are concerns that the Saudis could see such a move as provocation, and the treatment of Badawi could get worse.

A spokesperson for Mendicino said in an emailed statement that “Canada will always stand up for human rights around the world, and we remain seized with the case of Raif Badawi. We continue to raise his case at the highest levels and we have repeatedly called for clemency to be granted. We remain in contact with Ms. Haidar and we want to see Mr. Badawi reunited with his family.”

Brunelle-Duceppe said if the government has been acting behind the scenes, that strategy hasn’t worked. “He’s been in prison for nine years… where’s the progress?” he asked. “All we have as a result are new accusations against Mr. Badawi and his wife.”

Cotler said he has been representing political prisoners for 45 years, and in almost all cases, “there is always some anonymous government source that would say we shouldn’t be doing A or B because that will cause country A or B to act in a retaliatory way.” He added such statements are “not helpful, and in this case, not reflective of Canadian foreign policy.”

At the moment, Badawi’s case may be at somewhat of an inflection point. With a year left in his sentence, Saudi Arabia has now launched a new investigation of both Badawi and Haidar. The threat is that the country could lay new charges of inciting public opinion, and damaging the reputation of the kingdom, Cotler said.

The start of Ramadan next month could also offer a potential window for his release, since that is a time Saudi Arabia traditionally grants pardons to prisoners. Cotler has conveyed a clemency petition to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month.

The Canadian government should be pressing for Badawi’s release now, ahead of Ramadan, according to Brunelle-Duceppe. “We have another chance to ask for the liberation of Mr. Badawi, using Saudi traditions,” he said.

The new investigation by Saudi Arabia is also targeted at Haidar, and amounts to what Cotler called a “kind of an extra-territorial threat.”

“I think the Canadian government has to make it clear we will not tolerate our citizens being targeted for any threats,” he said.

Cotler pointed out some of the things Badawi was arrested 10 years ago for saying the crown prince has himself been speaking about in the past four years, such as talking about a more open Saudi Arabia and a more moderate Islam.

Badawi “also never criticized neither [bin Salman] nor the Saudi kingdom,” Cotler added. He said it’s in the crown prince’s “strategic interest” to release Badawi, considering Saudi relations with the United States and European Union.

Badawi’s sister, women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, and his lawyer and brother-in-law, Waleed Abulkhair, have also been imprisoned by the Saudi government.

When Samar Badawi was arrested in 2018, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland publicly criticized the arrest. In response, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, froze new trade and suspended flights between the two countries.

Cotler said at the time, no other democratic country came to Canada’s defense, a situation that emboldened the Saudis and “took us down the road” to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul two months later.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques