Skip to main content

Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband, Raif Badawi, who is jailed in Saudi Arabia.PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP / Getty Images

Amnesty International blasted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday for suggesting his government needs to tread warily in its bid to help secure the release of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

Badawi, who is not Canadian but whose wife lives in Quebec with their three children, was arrested in 2012 for his criticism of Saudi clerics and was convicted in 2014.

He was sentenced to 10 years in jail as well as 1,000 lashes. He received the first 50 in January 2015 but has not been whipped since.

"Obviously we want to be able to help," Trudeau said in an interview with Montreal radio station 98.5 FM.

"Sometimes, pushing too hard, too quickly has harmful consequences for the people you want to try to help."

Trudeau's assertion that Global Affairs Canada is working hard on the file did little to placate Amnesty spokeswoman Anne Sainte-Marie, who accused him of lacking tact.

"Too quickly?," she said. "What is the Trudeau government's cruising speed? Does it mean waiting for him (Badawi) to have spent 10 years in prison?

"His 'too hard, too quickly' seems a bit indelicate … It's a bit indecent on Mr. Trudeau's part."

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, who raised the matter with his Saudi counterpart when they met in Ottawa on Dec. 17, weighed in on the matter Thursday.

"I can't give the details that could harm our objective – mine and Mr. Trudeau's – which is Mr. Badawi's release," he said on a conference call from Myanmar, where he was visiting the formerly military-controlled state.

When the Liberals were in Opposition before last year's election, Dion asked then-prime minister Stephen Harper to intervene personally in the matter.

On Thursday, he warned against acting just for show.

"This isn't the time for theatrics for appearances' sake in this kind of situation," he said. "We must try to be as efficient as possible to get a result."

Trudeau said late last year he had no "immediate plans" to call Saudi Arabian authorities to ask that Badawi be freed.

Amnesty, meanwhile, is setting a new target date for Badawi's release: June 17, the day he was arrested in 2012.

That date falls two days before Father's Day this year.

"We would like to see that as it would (also) be a great Father's Day gift for his children," Sainte-Marie said.