„Raif Badawi just moved from a small prison to a larger one”

Raif Badawi
© Teresa Widlok

As part of the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, in cooperation with the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, once again hosted the Raif Badawi Talk. With the talk, the Foundation not only commemorates the fate of the blogger Raif Badawi, but also wants to remind of the difficult situation for journalists worldwide. Under this year’s motto "Women.Press.Freedom." not only Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi's wife, but two strong female voices had their say on the panel - Nevsin Mengü (Turkish journalist), and Wazhma Tokhi (Afghan publicist and activist).

Raif Badawi is Saudi Arabia's best-known liberal Internet activist. He founded the online forum "Free Saudi Liberals" and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1,000,000 Saudi Rial for his activities as a blogger and activist. He was released from prison last year (2022), but still did not fully regain his freedom. As his wife Ensaf Haidar impressively reported in her foreword, Raif Badawi has merely "moved from a small prison to a larger one." After his release, he is still banned from traveling or blogging on the internet for 10 more years. This means that he will not have seen his children and wife for a total of 20 years if his situation does not change. Haidar recalled that while the political situation in Saudi Arabia is currently changing, unfortunately the situation for Raif Badawi is not.

Several speeches stressed the importance of the freedom of press and the freedom of expression, especially in times of conflict. Anne Brasseur, member of the board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, reminded the audience that there was no difference between "traditional" and "Western" values. With this distinction, autocratic rulers around the world tried to justify their actions to restrict freedom of the press and freedom of expression. As Brasseur pointed out, no such distinction exists in the name of human rights. Human rights are based on universal values. In his video message, Constantin Schreiber, the well-known journalist, "tagesschau" anchor and co-founder of the Raif Badawi Award, emphasized that in Germany and around the world we must always be aware of the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Especially women who raise their critical voices are often victims and are being silenced, while they contribute a lot to the improvement of the future.

Impressive female voices from all over the world

The Afghan journalist and activist Wazhma Tokhi described the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan in moving words. While she said the situation affected not only female journalists but all women, it was shocking that in the 21st century complete exclusion from public life of half the population was even possible. She recalled that the situation for women was already oppressive before the Taliban came to power in 2021. This is because even before taking over, the Taliban targeted women who were public activist for women's rights. "The women in Afghanistan live in an open prison because they are banned from everything," Tokhi said. From Germany and other countries, she supports the organisation of underground schools in Afghanistan to provide education to girls who are excluded from education. She feels the girls are heroes because they still dream of being professionals later in life and are very strong. Tokhi wished that women and girls could do more for their country side by side with their brothers.

Nevsin Mengü, a well-known Turkish journalist, works primarily through the YouTube platform in order to pursue her critical journalistic work. She said on the panel that Turkish President Erdogan remains in power in part because he has destroyed the journalistic tradition in Turkey piece by piece. There is still the possibility for critical journalism to exist, but not in the classical media channels. These are controlled by Erdogan supporters in a kind of quasi-Mafia system. But since Erdogan is a clever man, there would be no ban on critical journalism, but it would be made more difficult in other ways. "You don't get thrown in jail, but troll factories lynch you on social media," Mengü reported. Even though the situation for women journalists in Turkey is in no way comparable to the situation in Afghanistan, Nevsin Mengü's contribution also provided insight into how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are effectively curtailed.

The event was opened by remarks from Margit Ketterle, editor-at-large for Droemer Knaur non-fiction and spokesperson for the Interest Group freedom of expression within the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, and expertly moderated by Rebecca Schönenbach, chair of the board of Frauen für Freiheit e.V. A recording of the event is available on the Foundation's website via the following link:

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