Ensaf Haidar and Raif Badawi

'Our father is brave. We wait for him with hope in our hearts'

Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was detained on 17 June 2012 and sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison for creating an online forum for public debate and accusations that he insulted Islam. He was also sentenced to a cruel and inhuman punishment of 1,000 lashes, and on 9 January 2015 he received the first 50 of these in a public square in Jeddah.

Raif’s children have not seen their father for many years. Five years after his arrest, Raif’s daughters, Najwa and Miriam, write to their father with the help of their mother, Ensaf Haider.

Najwa Badawi, aged 14

I couldn’t understand why we were leaving Saudi Arabia. I was only eight. We woke up one day, Doudi and Miriam and I, to find our clothes all packed in luggage bags.

Mom was rushed and in panic and the fear rose up through my body.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“We need to leave,” she said. “Your dad will follow us later.”

I was so surprised you would let us leave without you. It didn’t make any sense. For the whole of the trip, I was so angry at you. But I didn’t say anything.

Two years passed and you didn’t come.

“I was so surprised you would let us leave without you. It didn’t make any sense. For the whole of the trip, I was so angry at you. But I didn’t say anything”

All the while I asked Mom: “When is he coming?” And she would say: “Soon – it’s just a matter of time.” And I waited.

When we left to Canada, I thought you’d surprise us at the airport. But you weren’t there. I remained angry.

For the longest time, I thought you had left us. I thought you didn’t love us anymore or didn’t care. For the longest time, I was worried sick about Mom. What was going to happen to us without you?

And all the while, I kept my anger to myself and all the while, it grew inside me, heartbroken, confused.

The day eventually came when I learned the truth: that you were in jail, that you were jailed because you talked about what you believed in, that you were smart and patriotic and would never have left us if you had a choice.

It was hard to hear that you had been in jail all this time, but the feeling of relief was stronger. The feeling that you still loved us, that you were thinking of us, that you cared so much about us. It washed over my anger and filled me with great longing and faith in that day when I will see you again.

And so I still wait, but this time with so much more hope in my heart – the hope that King Salman will pardon you and that you will return to us, beloved and loving as ever.

Miriam Badawi, aged 10

I don’t remember much of the day we left Saudi Arabia. I was only four. What I remember most are photographs. Your photo. Your photo with Mom. She carries them with her everywhere.

And especially that photo of you with all of us. She’s put it up everywhere we’ve travelled since we left: in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Canada. Always that photo.

I try to remember you. Your voice, your hugs, but I can’t. I was tiny, clinging on to Mom when we left you and ran away.

But still, I know you well! I know you are the sweetest man in the world. I know you love us more than the world. I know that right now, you want – more than anything else in the whole wide world – to be with us.

I know that you miss us and I wonder how you’re doing. Sometimes, when I’m most upset, I lash out at Mom and scream: “How are we going to live without Dad?! What’s going to happen to us?” She holds me as I cry and pats me on the head and says: “He’s coming. He’s coming for sure.”

“I know you are the sweetest man in the world. I know you love us more than the world. I know that right now, you want – more than anything else in the whole wide world – to be with us”

I wonder if anyone understands what it’s really like to miss someone so badly. It’s all I know. I wait for the day when I can put my little hand in his big hand and walk with him to school. Show off my dad to all the other kids. Look at my father. Look how great he is.

My friends know that you’re in prison for writing – that you were flogged. It shocks them that anyone could be given such a horrible punishment just for writing. It shocked me as well when I learned about what happened. I cried so much. I pictured your back, cut in pieces. How could they do this to you?

But I know – we all know – that all you did was stand up for what you believe in.

Sometimes I wish you never wrote anything. Selfishly, I wish you kept quiet so you could be here, with me, now.

But Mom says you are brave, that you wrote for your country, that people like you make history. And it fills me with so much pride, I could explode. I can’t wait until the day I can point to you, standing next to me and say: Look! That’s my father.

Take action for Raif

Raif Badawi’s sentence was upheld in 2015.

The pressure you have already put on the Saudi Arabian authorities has helped ensure he has not been flogged again. But Raif is still in prison and needs your support more than ever.

 Find out how you can take action

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This article was contributed by a guest blogger. This blog entry does not necessarily represent the position or opinion of Amnesty International Australia.