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Wife of jailed Saudi blogger urges Canada to grant husband citizenship

Ensaf Haidar, who was granted asylum and lives in Sherbrooke, Que., holds a portrait of her husband, Raif Badawi.

Christian Lutz/The Associated Press

The wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is calling on Justin Trudeau to grant her husband Canadian citizenship, a measure she feels would make it easier to obtain his release in the Mideast country, which is notorious for human rights abuses.

Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail after being convicted in Saudi Arabia of blasphemy. The first round of lashes was administered in January, 2015, but subsequent instalments have been postponed.

Ensaf Haidar and the couple's three children were granted asylum in Canada last year and live in Sherbrooke, Que.

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Granting Ms. Haidar's request could complicate Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia and jeopardize a $15-billion deal to sell weaponized armoured vehicles to Riyadh over 14 years.

Critics of the business transaction have cited Riyadh's treatment of Mr. Badawi, and the mass execution this year that included a popular dissident Muslim cleric, as examples of why Ottawa should not broker and condone a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Ms. Haidar, speaking to The Globe and Mail through an interpreter, said she is grateful to Canada for offering refuge to her and her family, but asks that the country do more.

"The first thing Canada can do is give Raif Canadian citizenship so he can get out of prison," she said in an interview.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion's office referred questions about Ms. Haidar's request to Global Affairs departmental officials, who had no immediate response.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper used to say that Canada's influence in Mr. Badawi's case was limited because the writer was not a Canadian citizen.

Ms. Haidar said Canada should now remedy that and grant Mr. Badawi and her family citizenship so Ottawa's standing in the case is elevated.

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She said an international campaign to free her husband has "given a lot of emotional and psychological support" and demonstrated that "the world is on our side"

But, she added, it has not yielded concrete results. "No real change has happened."

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said a Canadian passport could help.

"Amnesty International continues to urge the Canadian government to explore all possible strategies for securing Mr. Badawi's release, allowing him to reunite with his family in Canada. A grant of citizenship, further to his wife Ensaf Haidar's request, could boost the effectiveness of Canada's pleas on his behalf."

Ms. Haidar, who met with Mr. Trudeau last year, months before the election campaign that vaulted him to power, declined to discuss the substance of their discussions, but said she is "very grateful and thankful for his promises."

She said Saudi officials cut off all communications between her and Mr. Badawi after they moved him to a new prison recently.

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Ms. Haidar said "there are no words in the world that can describe how badly" she feels right now, adding that Mr. Badawi has high blood pressure and she is very worried about his health.

She said the punishment meted out to her husband is completely unfair. "All Raif did was give his opinion. He did not insult religion or the government," she said. "What disaster or terror did Raif cause? He is a peaceful person who expressed himself peacefully."

Mr. Badawi turned 32 earlier this week.

Mr. Trudeau is being advised in briefing books to strengthen economic ties with Saudi Arabia because it would be good for business and Riyadh is an influential regional power.

But the Liberals face widespread criticism over the combat-vehicle deal, which is still in its early stages.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More


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