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Imprisoned Saudi blogger's health deteriorating, wife says

Reuters , Friday 1 Jan 2016
Raif Badawi
File Photo: Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi ( Reuters)
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Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, recent recipient of a prestigious European human rights award, has suffered fainting spells and deteriorating health because of a hunger strike, his wife said on Thursday.

Ensaf Haidar, who was granted asylum in Canada with the couple's three children, said by phone she hoped her husband would end a hunger strike he had initiated more than 20 days ago to protest against his transfer to a different prison in Saudi Arabia.

A member of Amnesty International in Canada and a spokeswoman for the Canadian government both said by email they were not able to confirm the hunger strike.

"Canada remains very concerned by the situation of Mr. Badawi and we will continue to call for clemency to be granted in his case," said government spokeswoman Rachna Mishra.

Badawi, who created and managed an online forum, was found guilty in 2014 of breaking Saudi Arabia's technology laws and of insulting Islam. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

He received his first 50 lashes in January, prompting strong criticism in Western countries of the kingdom's human rights record.

"I am very worried about him," Haidar said Thursday in Arabic through an interpreter. "His health, both physical and mental, is very poor."

She said she last spoke with her husband two weeks ago, and had been kept informed of Badawi's condition by a contact in Saudi Arabia whom she declined to identify.

Reuters was unable to independently verify Badawi's condition.

Officials at the Saudi embassy in Ottawa were not available for comment.

Haidar, who accepted the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on her husband's behalf from the European Parliament on Dec. 16, said the family had been optimistic after the Swiss secretary of foreign affairs told media in November that Badawi could receive a royal pardon.

She said the transfer to a different prison shortly afterwards was unexpected, and triggered Badawi's hunger strike.

"This was a surprise and counter to what we had heard," she said. "I hope that this hunger strike is not a sign that he has given up."

Haidar, who has been separated from Badawi for the last four years, said she had hoped they would be reunited by the end of 2015.

"I would have loved to enter the new year with my entire family," she said. "Four years is a long time."

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