Saudis release human rights activist Raif Badawi after 10 years in prison

Opinion: "A major development and one for which Evangelical leaders have been ... praying."

 Screenshot from Twitter account of Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar (photo credit: SCREENSHOT FROM TWITTER)
Screenshot from Twitter account of Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar

Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger and human rights activist, was released from prison by the Saudi government on Friday after nearly 10 years behind bars.

For more stories from ALL ISRAEL NEWS go to

“Raif called me — he is free,” his wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada with their children, told Agence France Presse.

This is a huge answer to prayer and one for which I am deeply grateful.

Badawi’s case was one that my Evangelical colleagues and I repeatedly raised in meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and other senior Saudi officials over the years.

We noted that Badawi was imprisoned before King Salman and his son, MBS, came to power.

We beseeched King Salman and MBS to correct the mistake of their predecessors by releasing Badawi to his family.

It took too long, but on Friday, it finally happened.

This is a very important development, and follows the release of other unfairly detained human rights activists from Saudi prisons in recent years.

As I noted in my recent book, Enemies and Allies, during the second delegation of Evangelical leaders that I took to Saudi Arabia in September 2019, we discussed at length with MBS the issue of expanding religious freedom in the kingdom, including allowing the building of the first churches in the kingdom, just as we had during our previous visit.

But we spent even more time asking him about other troubling human rights issues within the kingdom.

“There are cases that are very difficult for your friends in Congress and elsewhere—those who see the importance of your reforms and support them—to explain or defend,” I said.

I mentioned that then Vice President Mike Pence had raised one case in particular, that of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger arrested in June 2012.

By way of context, here is a quick summary of Badawi’s situation, as reported by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom:

In July 2013, a Saudi court sentenced Badawi to six hundred lashes and seven years in prison for insulting Islam and breaking the anti-cybercrime law by founding a liberal website. Following an appeal of the sentence, a criminal court resentenced him in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, one thousand lashes, a one million riyal fine, and a 10-year travel and media ban following release. Badawi received the first fifty lashes in January 2015 in front of Al Juffali Mosque in Jeddah. Following an international outcry and a medical doctor’s finding that Badawi could not physically endure more lashings, no further lashings have yet been carried out. However, in June 2015 and March 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 10 years in prison and one thousand lashes.

On July 18, 2019, Pence publicly asked the Saudis to release Badawi.

"Now, on September 10, 2020, we were asking for this as well, explaining that the Bible commands followers of Jesus to 'remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.'"

Seeking to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus, we explained that we felt it was our responsibility to ask for clemency for Badawi.

We also asked for clemency for Badawi’s sister, Samar, a women’s rights activist; for other women who were arrested after advocating for the right to drive and other women’s rights; and for several dual U.S.-Saudi citizens who have been imprisoned on a range of charges.

We did not take a position on whether any of these individuals or other controversial detainees were guilty of violating Saudi laws.

We simply asked for compassion.

“We are not here to demand anything,” I said. “We recognize that you are a sovereign government and have every right to make your own decisions. But we humbly ask that you and your father, His Majesty, show mercy to these prisoners, pardon them and release them.”

We explained that we believed this was the right thing to do and that we saw no way for the Saudi government to ever convince the American people or government, or the rest of the world, of the sincerity of its reforms without releasing these and other prisoners, and doing far more to protect human rights, including religious freedom.

There is much more the Saudi government needs to do.

And much more that Evangelicals need to do to press and pray for mercy on unfairly imprisoned Christians, Jews, Muslims and others.

But today is a day for rejoicing.