End Raif Badawi's Saudi travel ban and reunite him with family, rights groups say

End Raif Badawi's Saudi travel ban and reunite him with family, rights groups say
Raif Badawi was released from a Saudi prison last month but the activist remains separated from his family in Canada due to a travel ban.
3 min read
20 April, 2022
Human rights groups are calling on the Saudi government to end Raif Badawi's travel ban [Getty]

Human rights groups have called on Saudi Arabia to lift the travel ban on human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi, to allow him to reunite with his family in Canada for the first time in ten years.

Badawi, now 38, was released from prison last month after serving a full 10-year sentence for criticising the kingdom's powerful clerics on his blog.

He now faces a travel ban that would keep him separated from his wife and children for another decade.

Multiple rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have called on Riyadh to end the travel ban.

"The travel ban of Raif Badawi is as unfair and illegitimate as the 10 years he spent behind bars for doing nothing but exercising his right to free speech. Preventing Raif from leaving Saudi Arabia and seeing his family after a decade of separation is cruel and unjustified," Ahmed Benchemsi, communications director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division told The New Arab.

"Once again, [Crown Prince] Mohammad bin Salman's two-faced government is exposed - on one side, the claims of modernisation, the glitter of music festivals and sports events. On the other, a dictatorship that leaves no room for any opposition [and] throws free-minded intellectuals in jail - and once they're free, doubles up on viciousness by forcibly keeping them away from their loved ones."

Badawi was arrested in 2012 on charges of 'insulting Islam'. In 2014 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, a fine, along with a 10-year travel ban when his jail sentence concluded. 

He was publicly flogged 50 times in January 2015 but Saudi Arabia did not carry out the rest of his lashings following an international outcry.

Amnesty International, which had campaigned for Badawi's release, has now called on Riyadh to allow the activist to leave Saudi Arabia, saying the travel ban is a violation of his human rights.

"Amnesty International calls on Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally lift the travel ban unfairly imposed on Raif Badawi, simply for expressing his views peacefully," said Hashem Hashem, Amnesty International's regional campaigner in MENA to The New Arab.

"This is a violation of his basic right to freedom of expression. He has the right to be reunited with his family in Canada after 10 years in prison."

Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire described the travel ban as "outrageous". RSF has repeatedly contacted Saudi authorities for news of Badawi and an explanation of the travel ban but received no response. 

"In keeping him detained now, the Saudi authorities are adding to their long list of crimes against press freedom," said Deloire.

"Enough is enough - public debates are not crimes, and journalism is not a crime. Badawi must be released without further delay!"

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Badawi is known for his writings in support of freedom of expression and women's rights. 

In 2014 he was awarded the Reporters Without Borders-TV5 Monde Prize for Press Freedom and a year later given the Sakharov Prize for Freedom by the European Parliament.

Saudi Arabia is known for its extensive crackdown on journalists, activists, and critics of its political system.

Reporters Without Borders have ranked the Kingdom 170 out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index