MONTREAL – As a Saudi blogger with Canadian ties was spared a scheduled flogging for a third straight week Friday, a supporter expressed hope the pardon of a fellow activist may spur Raif Badawi’s release.
News of the flogging postponement emerged as word circulated that Souad al-Shammari, who co-founded a liberal blog with Badawi, had been freed.
Elham Manea, a human rights activist and Badawi family spokeswoman, said there’s reason to be optimistic about his case.
“We are hoping that he will be pardoned just like Souad al-Shammari,” Manea said in an interview from Switzerland.
Badawi is not a Canadian citizen but his wife and three children fled Saudi Arabia in 2012 and settled in Sherbrooke, Que., in 2013.
Amnesty Canada spokeswoman Beth Berton-Hunter said in an email the organization has information that al-Shammari was released. It was also confirmed by the woman’s daughter, who tweeted about her mother’s freedom.
Amnesty says the royal decree offering pardons for Saudi Arabian prisoners convicted on “public rights” charges was issued Thursday as part of King Salman’s latest set of decrees.
It will be up to the Saudi interior minister to decide on the conditions attached to the pardon, which the human rights organization called a positive step as long as no strings are attached.
Al-Shammari was detained in October.
Amnesty International said the mother of six was arrested after being questioned about comments she made on Twitter that allegedly mocked religious texts and authorities.
She also reportedly incited Saudi Arabian women to rebel against the male guardianship system that gives men final say over issues like a woman’s ability to travel abroad.
Meanwhile, Badawi’s scheduled flogging in Jiddah was postponed Friday for unknown reasons.
”We only know the previous two weeks, the cancellation took place on grounds of health condition,” Manea said. “But this week, we really don’t have any information other than the fact the flogging didn’t take place.”
Badawi is serving 10 years in prison and has also been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for the blog criticizing Saudi Arabia’s clerics.
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 was arrested in 2012 after writing articles critical of Saudi Arabia’s clerics on his blog.
He was found guilty of breaking the country’s technology laws and insulting Islamic religious figures through the site. The blog since has been shut down.
Badawi was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, but an appeals judge later stiffened the punishment. He was also fined one million Saudi riyals, more than $300,000.
On Thursday, Badawi’s wife joined an all-party coalition of MPs on Parliament Hill urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene personally with the Saudis to push for his release.
Ensaf Haidar said she’s worried about her husband, whose condition is worsening.
“It is impossible for a human being to be able to withstand 50 lashes weekly,” Haidar said through a translator at a news conference, citing the conclusion of several doctors who examined Badawi in the last week.
His detention and sentence have stirred up worldwide condemnation.
In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Development Minister Christian Paradis and Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, have all issued statements condemning the sentence.
Baird met with Saudi officials last week in Davos, Switzerland, and specifically mentioned Badawi’s case.
– With files from Associated Press
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