December 10, 2015 / 7:46 PM / 2 years ago

Imprisoned Saudi blogger on hunger strike, wife says

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been on a hunger strike since Tuesday after being transferred to a “new isolated” prison, his wife, Ensaf Haidar, said on Thursday.

Ensaf Haidar (C) takes part in a demonstration calling for the release of her husband, Raif Badawi, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Haidar, who lives in Canada where she and their three children were granted political asylum, confirmed the news by phone after tweeting it.

Colette Lelievre, a Montreal-based campaign organizer with Amnesty International, said Thursday the group had been told Badawi was transferred to a different prison for “administrative reasons.” Amnesty had not yet independently confirmed he started a hunger strike.

Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion told reporters in Ottawa that the federal government was still seeking confirmation that he had changed prisons.

“We are very concerned about the situation of Mr. Badawi,” he said. Asked if Canada was making representations to the Saudi embassy, he said: “We are doing our best to make sure that we will have a positive result in the end.”

The Saudi embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

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

“I call on his majesty King Salman to pardon my husband,” Haidar tweeted earlier in the day. “Please unite my children with their father.”

Haidar will be traveling to France to accept the prestigious Sakharov Prize awarded to her husband during a ceremony in Strasbourg on Dec. 16, Lelievre said. The prize, awarded by the European Parliament, is to honor freedom of thought.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Alan Crosby, Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio

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