Wife of jailed Saudi blogger hails U.S. vice-president’s call for husband’s release, wants meeting with Trump

Wife of jailed Saudi blogger hails U.S. vice-president’s call for husband’s release, wants meeting with Trump

MONTREAL—The wife of jailed Saudi dissident Raif Badawi said U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence gave her hope Thursday when he called on Saudi Arabia to free her husband.

Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Sherbrooke, Que., with her three children, said Pence’s comments were the first time a U.S. administration official has publicly mentioned her husband by name. She said she would like to meet President Donald Trump to talk about how he can help free Badawi.

“Trump is the only solution at the moment,” Haidar said in an interview. The Canadian government, meanwhile, hasn’t done enough to secure Badawi’s freedom, she said.

Pence told an audience at the State Department that Saudi Arabia would go a long way towards restoring its international reputation if it released Badawi. The 35-year-old blogger was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics.

Pence included the jailed dissident on a list of four men detained across the world for exercising their faith in the face of incredible pressure.

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In addition to Badawi, Pence called Abune Antonios, patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of Mauritania and Junaid Hafeez of Pakistan prisoners of conscience who should be released.

“All four of these men have stood in defence of religious liberty and the exercise of their faith despite unimaginable pressure, and the American people stand with them,” he said.

“Today, the United States of America calls upon the government of Eritrea, Mauritania, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to respect the rights of conscience of these men and let these men go.”

Haidar thanked Pence for his speech. “I have a lot of hope now,” she said. Badawi, she continued, is having a difficult time being away from his family. He calls from prison several times a month — when his morale is high, she said.

And she is holding out hope the American government can do more to help her husband than her own government has. She said she personally asked Prime Minister Trudeau to offer Badawi Canadian citizenship.

“Up until now (Trudeau) has done nothing,” Haidar said. “I am Canadian. My kids live in Canada. I thought Trudeau would do a lot to free him.”

Marie-Pier Baril, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the Canadian government has raised the case of Badawi “at the highest levels and we have repeatedly called for clemency to be granted.”

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Trudeau has spoken directly with the king of Saudi Arabia, and Freeland has raised Mr. Badawi’s case with her counterpart, Baril said in an email. “Last January, the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs met with Ensaf Haidar, a strong and courageous woman, to discuss the continued imprisonment of her husband,” she added.

“We remain in contact with Ms. Haidar, and we want to see Mr. Badawi reunited with his family. We will continue to raise our concerns over his situation both in Riyadh and Ottawa.”

TORONTO STAR

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