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Mike Pence’s call for Raif Badawi’s release from Saudi prison a shot in the arm for dispirited wife

Last updated on August 4th, 2019

Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi dissident Raif Badawi, is experiencing a heightened sense of hope these days.

Since June 17, 2012, when Raif was taken into custody for daring to stand up to Saudi Arabia in defense of religious liberty, Ensaf has been coping with her husband’s incarceration by clinging on to hope. That one day, her three children will be re-united with their father. She has been raising her voice on various global platforms, including the European Parliament, urging the international community to apply pressure on Riyadh to release Raif. The Kingdom has ignored every call.

Ensaf needed a powerful, influential voice to echo her sentiments. She needed the United States of America to do her bidding. She needed an American hawk!

Last week, US Vice-President, Mike Pence, asked Riyadh to free Raif Badawi without any further delay. It was for the first time that a US administration official, a top ranking one at that, had publicly mentioned her husband by name. Mr Pence told an audience at the State Department that the Saudi regime would do their damaged reputation a favor if they released Raif.

The US Vice-President’s call for her husband’s release appears to have provided Ensaf with renewed hope. She believes the US carries a lot of weight and its intervention can make a difference. She also wishes to meet President Donald Trump in the hope that he would put his weight behind her. If Trump succeeds in convincing King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to let Raif go, it would be an astonishing public relations coup for him, something that might temporarily offset the rising criticism he’s facing for his foreign policies at home and abroad.

While not really criticizing the Canadian Government for not doing enough for her cause, she did appear disappointed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s weak effort.

In 2016, she had urged the Canadian government under Trudeau to grant Canadian citizenship to her husband, but Trudeau rejected the suggestion. He reasoned that dual nationality is not recognized by Saudi Arabia. He did call for Raif’s release at the 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, though.

Haidar and her children became Canadian citizens in 2018 after filing for asylum.

In addition to Raif Badawi, VP Pence also called for the release of Abune Antonios, patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of Mauritania and Junaid Hafeez of Pakistan. They are all prisoners of conscience.

But Saudi Arabia is not going to be easy to convince, even if President Trump himself tries to do the convincing. Setting Raif free would set a precedence and encourage other prisoners to call for amnesty. It’s better to avoid being in a situation that puts you in a tough spot. That might turn out to be their approach.

But like they say, good things come to those who wait. One can only hope Ensaf Haider’s wait for her husband is not too long. It’s already been seven long years.

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