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Canada to press Saudi king to release blogger Badawi

Canadian FM will seek clemency for Badawi, whose 10-year sentence has drawn international condemnation
Badawi has received 50 lashes of 1,000-lash sentence (AFP)

Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said on Thursday he would ask Saudi Arabia to release jailed blogger Raif Badawi and allow him to rejoin his wife and children living in Canada.

Dion made the remarks prior to meeting Saudi Arabia's chief human rights official, Bandar Bin Mohammed al-Aiban.

"We will continue to seek clemency from the [Saudi] king for someone who has just expressed his opinion and we will ask that this person, Mr. Badawi, be allowed to reunite with his family," Dion told reporters.

Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, has lived in Canada as a refugee with their three children since her husband's arrest in 2012 and conviction for insulting Islam.

He is serving a 10-year prison sentence and has received 50 lashes of a 1,000-lash sentence that caused international outrage.

Dion and visiting Saudi Human Rights Commission president al-Aiban were scheduled to discuss "a full range of human rights issues, including the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi," according to the foreign ministry.

The pair were scheduled to also participate in a round table on human rights.

Haidar has called on the newly elected UN chief-designate Antonio Guterres to intervene on her husband’s behalf.

"I hope that one of the first things he talks about is Raif’s case, and I hope he’ll be one of the reasons for Raif’s release," she told MEE last month, referring to Guterres, who will start his tenure on 1 January 2017.

On 1 November, Human Rights Watch launched a website paying tribute to 140 Gulf dissidents who have been victims of crackdowns on political activism, including Badawi.

"The Gulf states have engaged in a systematic and well-funded assault on free speech to subvert the potentially transformative impact of social media and internet technology," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Last year, the European Parliament awarded Badawi the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Badawi's sister, Samar Badawi was arrested by Saudi authorities in January for handling the Twitter account of her husband, Waleed Abulkheir, another jailed human rights advocate.

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