Several dozen protesters gathered in Montreal today to denounce the treatment of a Saudi Arabian blogger being held in prison and call on Canada to do more to help him.

Raif Badawi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one-million Saudi Arabian riyals (about $315,000 Cdn) for offences including creating an online forum for public debate and insulting Islam.

His wife, Ensaf Haidar, was at the rally, holding a sign with a picture of her husband and the words “#FreeRaif.”

She called on Saudi Arabia to release him. 

Pressure on Canada to take action

Representatives from Amnesty International, the federal NDP, as well as the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire, held a news conference in Montreal earlier in the day, calling on Ottawa to take action.

Ensaf Haidar

Ensaf Haider holds up a sign bearing her a photo of her husband, Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, at a protest Tuesday. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

Meanwhile, Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau has requested a meeting with the Saudi ambassador and will officially ask for Badawi's release.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also condemned the flogging.

“The fact that the Saudi government can condemn the assault of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of the press last week, while brutally repressing free speech is both shocking and appalling,” May said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

“I urge the Saudi government to immediately end the egregious abuse of human rights against Mr. Raif Badawi and make sure that he receives the appropriate treatment for his injuries.” 

In an email, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said, “We are following his case closely in the context of human rights and have raised his case in dialogue with Saudi Arabia.


Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes while behind bars. Amnesty International says the flogging Friday has been postponed for medical reasons. (Amnesty International Canada)

“The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy,” said François Lasalle, calling the public flogging a "violation of human dignity."

“Canada has an ongoing, respectful dialogue with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues, including human rights.”

Case is complicated, Paradis says

International Development Minister Christian Paradis was asked about Badawi at a news conference in Quebec City and said the case is complicated because he is not a Canadian citizen.

“We are very sympathetic to the Badawi family, but there are some limits by what we can do by the fact that he's not a Canadian citizen and we cannot use our consulate or missions, but we are active through our embassies,” Paradis said.

Badawi received his first 50 lashings in a public square after morning prayers last Friday.

The flogging is being carried out over a period of 20 weeks, Amnesty International said.

The United States has asked Saudi Arabia to cancel the sentence of 1,000 lashes.

Badawi's wife and three children settled as refugees in Sherbrooke after his arrest.