Courage

Raif Badawi’s Sister: Saudi Arabia Jailed My Entire Family

The sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi on keeping the fight for human rights alive even as her brother and husband languish behind bars.

02.15.15 4:21 PM ET

On April 15, 2014, my husband, Saudi lawyer and human-rights activist Walid Abulkhair, was arrested at the fifth session of his trial. His crime? Defending my brother, blogger Raif Badawi, against charges of apostasy.

Ever since that shocking day, I have asked myself: How can I carry on while both my husband and my brother languish in prison?

Then I remember my husband’s words: "Life is a fight that needs to go on." I also recall the words of imprisoned freedom fighter Abdullah Al-Hamed, "A river carves its own route.” The example of these men and others like them fuels me to keep fighting for human rights—the reason my husband is behind bars.

Walid has always dreamt of having the freedom to live his life as he wished. But he also wanted all his fellow citizens to share his dream, so he devoted himself to the cause. He believes that freedom is a gift from God, which no man has the right to take away.

He took it upon himself to defend Raif Badawi when he was persecuted and sentenced to the penalty of apostasy. The ruling was later overturned, and he was arrested before he could finish his defense.

I met Walid because I, too, was a prisoner of conscience whom he decided to help, securing my release from prison. We realized we shared the same concerns, dreams, and struggling spirit. And so we got married.

Today, the situation is reversed: Walid is in jail because he demanded constitutional monarchy in a country ruled by absolute monarchy, in which the people are not allowed to participate in politics. He has also been charged with contempt of judicial authorities—the same authorities who have repeatedly proven a lack independence by blindly complying with requests from the Ministry of the Interior.

These are the same authorities who banned Walid from meeting his client in the so-called “Jeddah Reformers” case, yet allowed him to meet another client from a separate case because the individual in question was a British national. He was accused of communicating with the media and misrepresenting the country. What could be a more sadly ironic accusation? Has Walid ever been able to communicate with the state to present his demands?

Communicating with "foreign agencies" is yet another accusation Walid has faced. While this is made to sound like espionage, in fact these "agencies" were eminent international human-rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders. Walid has also been accused of "founding an unlicensed organization," which is odd considering the fact that he sent a telegraph to the late King Abdullah asking him to ratify the foundation of the observatory, and to order it to be licensed.

King Abdullah apparently had a different opinion; he sent the telegraph to the Ministry of Interior for investigation.

Walid has also been accused of public incitement against the system. I have researched this accusation thoroughly, but have not found a clear definition that justifies imprisonment

Walid was tried by the Specialized Criminal Court , and is the first prisoner to be tried under this oppressive law intended for terrorism suspects. A brief look at the law makes clear that any action disliked by the state can be construed as “terrorist.” Walid refused to acknowledge the authority of the court, on the grounds of its legally dubious origins and the multiple violations that characterized the selection process for its judges. Walid was sentenced, before this court, to 15 years of imprisonment, and an additional 15-year of travel ban.

When Walid was first jailed, I was just a wife. By the time the ruling was issued, I had become a mother. It was in court that he saw his daughter, Jude, for the first time. His daughter is almost a year old now, and her father is absent from her life. A lot of people look at her with sympathy, but I look at her with pride. How could I fail to do so, when her father is sacrificing his life so that she, and other children, can enjoy a better future with freedom, equality, and human rights.

When Jude grows up, some people may tell her that her father was in jail because he opposed the government. I will tell her that he was in jail because he told his oppressors that they were oppressors, because he refused to be treated as a second-class citizen and because he wouldn't accept that his daughter would have to live in a man's shadow without any independence.

I will continue to defend my husband, who stands for the universal human rights of freedom and justice, and who is fighting to deliver this for the next generation.

Movements.org is a crowdsourcing platform created by Advancing Human Rights which connects activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help them.