OTTAWA — The Canadian wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi said she isn’t worried Ottawa’s decision to take in teen refugee Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun will hurt her husband’s case, despite speculation that the incident could further strain Canada-Saudi relations.
Ensaf Haidar said the Canadian government did the right thing in granting refugee status to the 18-year-old woman who drew global attention after fleeing her allegedly abusive family.
“I’m happy for her,” Haidar said in a phone interview. “I’m very proud of Canada, too. That’s what a democratic country is.”
Haidar, who lives in Quebec with her three children, said she didn’t believe Canada’s acceptance of Alqunun would hurt her husband’s chances of release, because the two cases are “very different.”
Alqunun landed in Toronto on Saturday, after gaining international prominence after she fled her family on a trip to Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel and launched a Twitter campaign outlining allegations of abuse against her relatives.
Alqunun said her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.
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The young woman landed in Canada on what was a symbolic week for Badawi, who was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his criticism of Saudi clerics.
Sunday was the blogger’s 35th birthday, and last week marked three years since he received 50 lashes in January 2015 during a public flogging.
He is not believed to have received any more corporal punishment since then.
Some have suggested Canada’s decision to accept Alqunun could heighten tensions that peaked over the summer when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada’s ambassador and withdrew his own envoy after Canada’s foreign affairs minister used Twitter to call for the release of arrested women’s rights activists.
But other experts, such as University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, have said the relationship with the Saudi government has deteriorated to the point where the decision to accept Alqunun no longer poses much risk.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada would stand up for human rights regardless of diplomatic consequences.
Haidar said she hasn’t met Alqunun, but she’s followed her case on social media and advocated for Canada to accept her.
Haidar is also one of three people who started a GoFundMe page to help raise money to help Alqunun begin her new life.
Haidar, now a prominent human rights activist, says she’s not giving up on her husband’s release either.
Later this week she is scheduled to meet with Trudeau, where she’ll once again press him to grant Badawi Canadian citizenship.
Roxanne Ocampo, The Canadian Press