NEWS

Raif Badawi Supporters Start Free Speech Foundation

09/11/2015 07:07 EDT | Updated 09/11/2016 05:12 EDT

MONTREAL — Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been named president of a new foundation that bears his name and has the goal of promoting freedom of expression worldwide as well as supporting writers and journalists in the Arab world.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and dissident writer Salman Rushdie have been named honorary members, co-founder Evelyne Abitbol told a news conference Friday.

Badawi, 31, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2012 for publishing blog posts advocating human rights and democracy in his country.

Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's wife who fled Saudi Arabia in 2012 with their children and settled in Quebec, is the other co-founder. She addressed reporters Friday from Germany by video conference.

The foundation will host seminars and fund research dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, Abitbol said.

She added she wants the organization to "become an open platform in the Arab world" for aspiring writers and journalists.

"He is imprisoned for (promoting freedom of expression)," said Abitbol. "We are here in Canada, we are in a western country and we need to continue to defend him and the ideas he stands for."

Abitbol also called on the heads of Canada's main political parties to propose measures to help accelerate Badawi's release from a Saudi jail.

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil has said the province will give Badawi an immigration selection certificate on humanitarian grounds, while Ottawa has vowed to continue raising the matter with Saudi officials.

The Saudi court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing clerics in that country.

However, after a first session of 50 lashes in January, all others have been postponed, apparently due to health concerns and undisclosed reasons.

The foundation is seeking donations to support its mission.

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