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Canada offers to take in Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

Canada says Badawi free to join his family in the country, opening the door for Ottawa to increase pressure on Saudi to release him
File photo shows jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

OTTAWA - Canada offered on Friday to take in Raif Badawi, a jailed Saudi blogger who faces flogging, listing him as a priority immigrant on humanitarian grounds so that he might rejoin his family already living here.

The province of Quebec cleared the way for his coming to Canada by offering Badawi a so-called immigration selection certificate.

These are issued "in exceptional circumstances to foreigners in need of protection", Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said.

Quebec is behind Raif Badawi," said Weil. "His treatment is outrageous - it's cruel and unusual punishment.”

In this case, it opens the door for Ottawa to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia to release Badawi and allow him to join his wife Ensaf Haidar and three children in exile.

The family lives in Sherbrooke, Quebec, 150 kilometers east of Montreal.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said he was hopeful the offer to help Badawi immigrate to Canada "will allow us to break the logjam and have a happy ending to this.

"This is an important development that will definitely facilitate the process, and we hope it will lead to a positive outcome," Blaney said.

Worldwide outrage followed a Saudi lower court's decision sentencing Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for insulting Islam. 

Badawi, 31, received the first 50 lashes outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on 9 January. Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed.

On Friday, another round of flogging was cancelled, Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar wrote on his Twitter account:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has criticised the way Saudi authorities have treated Badawi, but has said Ottawa’s ability to intervene is limited given the fact that Badawi does not have Canadian citizenship.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia condemned foreign criticism of the sentence that the kingdom's highest court upheld against the blogger.