After she was granted refuge in Canada, Ensaf Haidar has worked hard to try to obtain her husband’s release. (Christian Lutz/AP Photo)

Wife of jailed Saudi blogger met with Prime Minister Trudeau


Canadian activist Ensaf Haidar, wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Sherbrooke, Quebec, on Wednesday to discuss her husband’s fate amid ongoing tensions between Ottawa and Riyadh.

This was the first face-to-face meeting between Trudeau and Haidar, who settled in Sherbrooke after fleeing Saudi Arabia with the couple’s three children.

The meeting on the sidelines of a Liberal caucus retreat in Sherbrooke lasted about 30 minutes, Haidar told Radio-Canada.

Canadian citizenship for Badawi?

Haidar, who became a Canadian citizen last year, said she raised the issue of granting Canadian citizenship to her husband as well, who has been languishing in a Saudi jail since his arrest in 2012.

He was later found guilty of insulting Islamic values and promoting liberal thought by suggesting online that Saudi Arabia should become more democratic.

Badawi was sentenced to 10 years, a hefty fine, and 1,000 lashes. The first 50 were administered in January 2015. The others are believed to have been postponed due to his poor health.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Haidar said the meeting raised her hopes somewhat after the prime minister promised her to “do something” for Badawi.

“It’s difficult, nothing has changed for Raif for now,” Haidar said speaking in French. “It’s always the same thing. Every time I say maybe… maybe he will be released this month, maybe for the New Year, maybe, maybe… It’s always maybe.”

Difficult relations with Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic row with Canada had Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, respond with harsh measures. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Trudeau also told her that he raised Badawi’s fate during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Haidar said.

Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh and recalled its own ambassador in Ottawa last year amid a diplomatic showdown over Canada’s calls to release jailed Saudi women activists, including Badawi’s sister, Samar.

Saudi Arabia also froze all investment projects in Canada, cancelled flights to and from Toronto, and ordered thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to transfer to universities in other countries.

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, centre, stands with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, right, and Saba Abbas from COSTI Immigrant Services, as she arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Saturday, January 12, 2019. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Relations between Ottawa and Riyadh were expected to cool further after Canada granted asylum to runaway Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed, who fled her allegedly abusive family, and Freeland personally greeted her at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport last week.

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