POLITICS

Montreal mayor wants Harper to intervene in Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's case

02/23/2015 02:22 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Montreal's mayor has called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to lobby Saudi officials to free jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose fate remains uncertain.

"Foreign affairs — and even the prime minister himself — should give a call to the government of Saudi Arabia and repatriate Mr. Badawi to Canada so the family can be together," Mayor Denis Coderre told reporters Monday.

Coderre, flanked by Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's wife, and other local elected officials, called on other Canadian municipalities to show their solidarity and express support for Badawi.

The jailed blogger, whose wife and children live in Sherbrooke, Que., was sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes for criticizing Saudi Arabia clerics on his website.

Badawi is not a Canadian citizen and Harper said earlier this month that fact limits Canada's influence in his case.

Harper has said the government finds the gestures imposed on Badawi to be barbaric and will continue to express those views.

The government was asked in the House of Commons on Monday what the Harper government was doing about Badawi, given that his health is reportedly deteriorating.

Lynne Yelich, minister of state for foreign and consular affairs, said the government is calling on the Saudis to respect Badawi's dignity and human rights, but repeated that Badawi is not Canadian and that "we only do what we can do."

Coderre, a former federal immigration minister, said a ministerial permit could be issued for humanitarian reasons to allow Badawi to come to Canada.

"We've been doing that in the past, it is possible," Coderre said. "We want to let the government do what it has to do, but clearly there is a way, I've done it myself."

Amnesty International said last Friday that Saudi Arabia postponed the flogging of Badawi for a sixth consecutive week.

His wife told reporters on Monday the situation has been tough on her and her children, having to wait every week to find out what will happen to her husband.

"They (the kids) wait every Friday, they ask me questions (and) now they know the whole story, it's difficult," she said.

Badawi was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but an appeals judge stiffened the punishment and fined him one million Saudi riyals, or more than $300,000.

The first 50 lashes were delivered on Jan. 9. He was expected to receive 50 more every week for the following 19 weeks, according to Amnesty International.

Badawi's detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation.

Beatrice Vaugrante, a spokeswoman for Amnesty Canada's francophone branch, said Badawi could still face more floggings.

"He has not been flogged, we don't know why," she said, speculating that international attention and private talks may be the reason why.

Vaugrante also said Badawi is having problems with his blood pressure, he doesn't eat well, and can't even see daylight from his prison cell.

"But nothing has been cancelled in terms of a legal decision, it could resume next Friday," she added.

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