Samar Badawi: We Must Champion Jailed Saudi Rights Activists
Thu, February 26, 2015
Samar Badawi with her daughter wearing t-shirts calling for the release of her husband Waleed Abu al-Khair
Samar Badawi is a Saudi Arabian human rights activist. She first came to prominence when her father filed legal charges of disobedience against her under Saudi Arabia's male guardianship law. She filed a charge against him of 'adhl' - refusing to allow her to marry.
Over the course of the case, during which she was briefly imprisoned, she fell in love with her lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who she later married.
Her brother is Raif Badawi, a prominent Saudi human rights activist who is currently imprisoned for founding the website Saudi Liberal Bloggers, aiming to open a discussion about the system of government in Saudi Arabia.
He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes. Samar's husband, Waleed Abulkhair, took on her brother Raif's case, only to be imprisoned himself as a result.
In 2012, Samar Badawi won the International Women of Courage Award, which was presented to her by Michelle Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the U.S. State Department.
Samar graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project's Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about her brother, her husband and about human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Clarion Project: We have heard that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) will be reviewing your brother Raif's case. Is that true? Is there any hope that they intend to release him? If that goes well do you think they might review your husband's case?
Samar Badawi: The Supreme Court has returned the case to a criminal court again. Unfortunately I do not know all the details ordered by the Supreme Court. I wish he could actually be released. It is possible that the Supreme Court might take similar action in the case of my husband, but you can never know.
Clarion: Your brother has been receiving a lot of international support. Do you think that international pressure has been making a difference in how the Saudi government is handling this case?
Samar: Yes, there are many cases in the history of the Saudi judiciary in which verdicts have changed because of international pressure or great public pressure. My own case is a good example when I was unfairly sentenced to prison, but later released after a public outcry.
Clarion: In your excellent piece for the Daily Beast you say that your husband, Walid is in prison "because he demanded a constitutional monarchy in a country ruled by an absolute monarchy."
Would you be able to explain for our readers what he envisioned by that?
Samar: My husband Walid, along with many activists, demanded basic political and civil rights. These include a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament with real legislative powers and an independent judiciary and fair rights, not control of a small elite cadre with solely personal influences. These are simple demands, but the Saudi government just refuses to accept them.
Clarion: You are also renowned as a human rights activist yourself, fighting for women's right to drive in the Saudi Arabia. Is that campaign bearing fruit?
What about Loujain al-Hathoul and Maysa al-Amoudi who last we heard were being tried in a terrorism court for attempting to drive into the kingdom with valid UAE drivers licences?
Do you have any information about what happened to them?
Samar: They have been released for now, but it is still unclear whether their trial will continue or not. Saudi women suffer from many problems in fundamental rights, including male guardianship since the government granted these male custodians power to decide on behalf of the woman even in personal matters.
These problems branched out other areas such as the right of women to drive or move from one place to another. Regarding the subject of women driving, that campaign has now stopped because of the ferocity of the government in cracking down on activists. This is especially true after the transfer of Loujain and Maysa to the Terrorism Court.
Clarion: You have a young daughter who you are raising alone, without her father. How do you keep going even in dark times when there seems like there is no hope?
Samar: Hope and faith in the justice of the cause of my husband is still alive. What motivates me more to survive is my responsibility, not only for raising my children, but also the responsibility of changing the dark reality in which we live now in order to build a future of justice, freedom and equality for all Saudi citizens.
Clarion: Your sister-in-law Ensaf Haider, was able to leave Saudi Arabia with her children. You have a travel ban from the interior ministry. Are you in personal danger of being arrested?
Samar: Yes, there is a risk, but the risk I am taking is for the defense of my husband and brother, both detained human rights activists.
It is my responsibility to stay and defend them and all other rights, this is my duty towards them because they have paid a high price for us. Now it is our duty to work for them.
Clarion: This interview will be read predominantly by people outside of Saudi Arabia sympathetic to your cause and who long to see both your husband and your brother freed by King Salman.
What can they do to support you and your family?
Samar: All I can do is to continue to talk about them and introduce them and their story more and more to get people to know them and the manifold injustices they face.
We have to tell people that there are men and women who have paid a price for seeking their freedom and rights.