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Wife of Raif Badawi, Imprisoned Saudi Blogger, Feels Pain From Afar

28The story of how Ensaf Haidar first encountered her husband, Raif Badawi, is an unusual version of “meeting cute.”

In 2000, Ms. Haidar was a cloistered young woman studying the Quran in a small town in Saudi Arabia, where she lived with her family and rarely interacted with men.

It all started with an accidental meeting. Ms. Haidar was using a borrowed phone and mistakenly returned a call from Mr. Badawi. At first she hung up, but he called back, and kept calling.

Over time she gave in, leading to a secret, phone-based romance and eventually, marriage. Now, 16 years later, the couple’s romance endures under extraordinary circumstances — across thousands of miles, through prison walls and against the backdrop of an international fight over freedom of expression.

Mr. Badawi, 32, has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since 2012, serving a 10-year sentence for creating and posting in an online forum called Free Saudi Liberals Network. He was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes, delivered 50 at a time.

The first flogging was carried out in a public square in January 2015, provoking an international outcry. A despondent Ms. Haidar watched a cellphone video of the flogging that circulated online. The second one has been postponed many times.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Haidar said she tried to keep Mr. Badawi’s spirits up, although their relationship is, once again, conducted only by phone. She lives with the couple’s three children in Sherbrooke, near Montreal, after being granted asylum in 2013.

When Ms. Haidar and Mr. Badawi were first getting to know each other, they spent hours on the phone. She sang him her favorite song, by the Egyptian singer Um Khulthom. They talked about their lives and dreams. Now their phone calls, once or twice a week, are short, per prison rules.

“I tell him about everything — the awards, the protests, the sit-ins that we have,” Ms. Haidar said through a translator. “Of course the conversations are quite short, but I make sure that he knows that other people care about his case and that hope is still there.”

Mr. Badawi was convicted of charges that included insulting Islam and promoting unacceptable thoughts electronically. He has exhausted his legal appeals. He is said to be in poor health, and has gone on several hunger strikes. An international campaign for his release is now focused on getting King Salman to pardon him.

His writings had challenged Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment. In October, the European Union honored him with its top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Since his arrest, Ms. Haidar, 36, has become an outspoken campaigner on his behalf. She organizes weekly protests with Amnesty International and recently published a memoir, “Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story,” written with Andrea C. Hoffmann, an author and journalist.

Ms. Haidar said a movie studio, which she did not want to identify, had bought the rights to make her book into a film.

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