CLBR #299: The Battle to Free Raif Badawi with Brandon Silver

The Battle to Free Raif Badawi with Brandon Silver


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Raif Badawi is a 34-year old Saudi activist, blogger and creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals.  His writings called for greater religious tolerance in Saudi Arabia which is dominated by Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalists.  (See CLBR Backgrounder: Saudi Arabia.)  They include:

  • Is Liberalism Against Religion?

Liberalism provides all that is necessary for individual freedoms, as well as freedom of religion, without imposing upon the society the tutelage of a certain sect or tyrant.

Religions, according to the concept of liberalism, are personal and special choices. A liberal country has no religion, which doesn’t mean it’s godless. It means it protects the rights of all the religions and nurtures all of them without distinction or upholding one over the others. It doesn’t apple-polish the majority’s religion over the minorities’.

  • No to Building a Mosque in New York City

Finally, it’s clear to observers that our Muslims in Saudi Arabia disrespect the beliefs of others. We consider them apostates. Those who are Muslims but are not believers in the Hanbali school are seen, in a very limiting way, as aliens. Having this mentality in our society is destructive: How will we be able to build a human civilization with positive relations with the 7 billion people around the world when 5.5 billion of them don’t even believe in Islam?

Badawi’s saga, however, demonstrates that the Saudi regime has no tolerance for religious tolerance.

  • 2008:   Badawi was detained on apostasy charges.  He was released prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia.
  • 2009:  Badawi and his wife’s bank accounts were frozen.
  • 2012:  Badawi was arrested on a charge of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and cited for apostasy which carries an automatic death sentence.
  • 2013:  Badawi was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought” and his website shut down.
  • 2014:  Badawi’s sentence was increased to 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of 1 million riyals (equal to about $267,000), for “insulting Islam”.
  • 2015: Badawi received 50 lashes before hundreds of spectators in front of a mosque in Jeddah, the first in a total of 1,000 lashes to be administered over twenty weeks.  Further flogging was suspended due to Badawi’s health and an international backlash.

Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar was forced to flee to Canada.  The government, however, has also gone after:

  • Badawi’s lawyer (Waleed Abulkhair) who was sentenced to 15-years imprisonment followed by a 15-year travel ban for attempting to establish a Saudi human rights organization.
  • Badawi’s sister (Samar Badawi) has gained international attention for her promotion of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and is the wife of Badawi’s jailed lawyer.  She has been detained and had her passport revoked.

In April Brandon Silver and Badawi’s wife authored a column in Time Magazine urging Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to prove his sincerity in reforming Saudi Arabia by freeing Free Raif Badawi.  They argued that Badawi’s conviction was unlawful:

Yet the treatment of Raif Badawi is in standing violation of domestic Saudi law and further obligations that Saudi Arabia has assumed under international law. The Court that convicted Badawi lacked jurisdiction. The witnesses in his case were inadmissible. He was denied his right to counsel — his lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu Al-Khair was himself imprisoned — and he was not informed of the charges against him, nor given the necessary time and means to prepare his defense. His sentence of lashings was itself illegal — as physical torture is prohibited under the Arab Charter on Human Rightsratified by Saudi Arabia in 2009, and the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture, which the nation ratified in 1997. The criminalization of Badawi was ultimately the criminalization of the protected rights he sought to exercise and of freedom itself.

And further noted that Badawi looms large over Saudi’s international reputation since he

may be the most celebrated prisoner of conscience in the world today. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he is a recipient of scores of prestigious human rights awards and honorifics, including the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament, the PEN Pinter Prize and the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize. Foreign Policy named him as one of 2015’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers, and he received the Courage Award from a coalition of 20 human rights groups from around the world at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. His case and cause have been championed by a broad and inclusive cross-section of leaders from both civil service and civil society.

In June, the Los Angeles Press Club will award Badawi its Daniel Pearl Award.


guest1Brandon Silver

Website / LinkedIn

Brandon Silver is the Director of Projects at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, working under the mentorship of former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Hon. Irwin Cotler, who founded and chairs the Centre. The Raoul Wallenberg Centre is a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs, and students united in the pursuit of justice, inspired by and anchored in Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy – how one person with the compassion to care and the courage to act can confront injustice, prevail, and transform history.

Prior to joining the Centre, Brandon interned in the office of then-Liberal Leader and now Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, and Justice and Human Rights Committee Vice-Chair Sean Casey. He has also contributed as a legal researcher and writer to a number of academic publications on human rights, constitutionalism, and technology law.

As an author, Brandon has sought to highlight the case and cause of human rights in general, and dissidents in particular. He is a past nominee of the Quebec Literary Awards and winner of the CBC Reader’s Choice Prize.

An advocate of inclusive leadership, Brandon has been recognized for empowering others to work together in common cause towards creative and constructive solutions. He is a recipient of the Harvard University Diplomacy Award and the TD Merit Award for Community Leadership, among others. In 2016, the World Economic Forum named him a “Global Shaper.”

Brandon is a graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and is pursuing a Masters of Law at UC Berkeley on a merit scholarship for excellence in Public Law.


As we get ready to go on the air, Reporters Without Borders has released its Press Freedom Index.  Saudi Arabia is 169th out of 180 countries, while the U.S. has dropped to 45th.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument on the Trump administration’s “Muslim Travel Ban” which does not include Saudi Arabia.


  • May 2: The downside of Uber, Airbnb and the Sharing Economy with Prof. Katherine Reilly, Simon Fraser University
  • May 9: ADA Website Accessibility Compliance with Kathy Wahlbin, CEO & Founder Interactive Accessibility and Heather Antoine, Antoine Law Group
  • May 16: ICANN WhoIs and GDPR with Tyler Marandola Ballard Spahr
  • May 23: Bringing Science to Washington with Congressional candidate Jess Pheonix.



Jeffrey Greenbaum and I will be continuing our discussion from CLBR #288 on the FTC and Influencer Marketing in a Webinar for the California Lawyer’s Association IP Section.

The event is sponsored by the California Lawyers Association’s IP Section’s Technology, Internet and Privacy Subcommittee which I chair.  You can register for the program here.


Our prayers go out to our friends in Toronto over this week’s terrorist attack.