Today I joined another vigil for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, along with friends from English PEN, Reporters Sans Frontiers, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the Society of Authors. I recorded a short video, documenting the growing number of faces on our campaign placards.
Right so here I am again outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London on another protest another vigil for freedom of expression, for what feels like an ever increasing number of writers – people who’ve had their freedom of expression rights violated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I’m here with English PEN, Reporters Without Borders, the Society of Authors and the Peter Tatchell Foundation to protest the imprisonment of, as I say, an ever growing number of people.
I think it’s probably worth showing you the faces of some of the people for whom we are protesting. Just going along the line, the first face you see is Jamal Khashoggi. He was in the news recently, murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey by the Saudi Arabian regime, it seems.
Next to him is a familiar face for people on my Facebook feed at least, that’s Raif Badawi who’s been in prison for ten years sentenced to a thousand lashes for the crime of setting up a liberal blog.
This is Waleed Abulkhair, he’s the most recent winner of the the PEN Pinter prize chosen by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He’s a human rights lawyer, he’s actually Raif Badawi’s lawyer I believe, he’s in prison himself, again for doing nothing more than than standing up to the Saudi regime and demanding that they abide by the rule of law.
Just to show you at the end here that’s Ashraf Faydh, he’s actually Palestinian. A Palestinian poet but imprisoned by the Saudi regime because because they don’t like his writing.
There’s another another man along here somewhere let’s see if we can find… Where is Marwan? this is a Yemeni blogger who was writing about Saudi Arabian conduct in the intervention in the civil war there. He has been ‘disappeared.’ Used to live in Riyadh and no one knows where he is, we’re calling on the Saudi regime to tell us.
There’s one more, where’s Fayadh Al-Fayadh? There he is. Another Saudi blogger who’s who’s been in prison for many years, we’re calling for his release too.
So when I first started these vigils with English PEN back in 2015, we were just holding Raif Badawi’s picture. Over the years we’ve added the others and we were just discussing with our colleagues from Reporters Without Borders that there are more writers, political prisoners, human rights defenders who we could add to that list. The Saudi regime seems to be playing a kind of macabre game of of ‘happy families’ collecting ever more diverse photographs of people whom they’ve abused.
These aren’t foreigners, by the way these are, many of them are Saudi citizens… these are Arabic speakers, these are people of Islam who have been calling for human rights in Saudi Arabia. This isn’t a Western imposition, this isn’t activists in the UK trying to impose something on a culture that doesn’t want it. These are people from within the Saudi culture, who are demanding greater rights, greater freedom, for their people, greater artistic expression. And the people who work in this embassy are hurting their own culture, hurting Arabic culture hurting Islamic culture by their insistence on locking up, lashing and murdering people who do nothing more than than criticize them.