RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed a 10-year travel ban for freed blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi after he was freed a day earlier.
An interior ministry official said: “The sentence handed down to Raif was 10 years in prison followed by a travel ban for the same length of time. The court ruling holds up and is final.”
“Therefore, he cannot leave the kingdom for another 10 years unless a (royal) pardon is issued,” the official said.
Badawi, now 38, who was arrested and detained in Saudi Arabia in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam”, was released on Friday.
At the end of 2014, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks. His first flogging in the kingdom’s Jeddah square shocked the world and was described by the United Nations as “cruel and inhuman”. After the outcry, he has not lashed again.
On Friday, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada with their three children, said: “Raif called me. He is free.” It was later confirmed by a Saudi security official, but details of Badawi’s release were not revealed.
Every Friday for years, Haidar who fled to Canada after Badawi’s arrest and has since become a Canadian citizen held a public vigil for him.
“I jumped when I found out. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t wait to see my dad, I’m so excited,” one of his daughters, Najwa Badawi, 18, had said. Amnesty International said on Friday it would “actively work to have any conditions lifted”, noting that Badawi could face a 10-year travel ban.
Raif Badawi’s sister, Samar Badawi, as well as activist Nassima al-Sadah, released in 2021, also remain stranded in the kingdom.
Canada’s Quebec province has paved the way for Badawi to come to the country if he chooses by placing him on a priority list of potential immigrants for humanitarian reasons.
“Finally!” Quebec Premier Francois Legault tweeted Friday about his release, adding: “I keep thinking about the children who will finally see their father!” Badawi studied economics and ran an institute for teaching English and computer skills prior to his arrest, according to his wife.
Known for his writings in support of freedom of expression, the blogger won the 2014 Reporters Without Borders prize in the net-citizen category.
He was also awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom by the European Parliament in 2015, and in 2015 and 2016, he was among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize.
International non-governmental groups and the UN continue to denounce the repression of dissenting voices and the imprisonment of activists in Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s efforts to improve its image by undertaking certain reforms.