New Saudi crown prince offers fresh hope for Quebec family of blogger jailed since 2012

The Quebec family of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is hopeful he could soon receive a royal pardon. He has been in prison since 2012.

Raif Badawi sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticism of Saudi clerics

Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, says she's hopeful he could be pardoned. (Christian Lutz/Associated Press)

The wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi says she's hopeful her husband could soon be free.

Ensaf Haidar​, who lives in Quebec, told a news conference in Ottawa Thursday she got word from a European Parliament delegation that Badawi was on "a list of people who would be forgiven by the king — but we don't know when."

Representatives from the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights travelled to Saudi Arabia last October to plead the cause of human rights. In their discussions, they reiterated their call for Badawi's release.

This would be the first time Badawi is on the list, his wife said. "This is also the first time that there is a list of prisoners of conscience," she added.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his criticism of Saudi clerics.

He received the first 50 lashes but is believed to have been spared the others because of his poor health.

Former MP and international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, who has been advocating for Badawi's release, confirmed the report, saying it suggests "there may be a clemency in the offing for Raif Badawi." But he stressed that "we've not had any official representation to that effect."

Speaking alongside Haidar at the news conference, Cotler said he's hopeful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has taken steps to modernize Saudi Arabia, could lead the country to change its position on Badawi.

Mireille Elchacar, a representative of Amnesty International in Quebec's Eastern Townships who has been following the case, could not confirm that a royal pardon procedure is underway.

Delegation to Saudi Arabia on hold

A Quebec delegation, including Cotler and Quebec MNA Agnès Maltais, had been preparing to plead Badawi's case with the Saudi government in February or March.

The project is on hold for the moment given the latest developments.

This is not the first time there have been reports Badawi could be released.

In November 2015, Swiss Foreign Secretary Yves Rossier said he was informed that Badawi's sentence had been suspended.

Haidar, centre, protested on Parliament Hill in 2015 for the release of her husband. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Badawi's imprisonment has drawn widespread international condemnation, and human rights groups have accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not doing enough to free him.

Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, but Haidar and their three children live in Sherbrooke, Que.

​Global Affairs Canada has said the government has raised Badawi's case at the highest levels and continues to call for clemency.

With files from Radio-Canada's Geneviève Proulx and The Canadian Press