With a new graphic documentary, CBC/Radio Canada explores the importance of freedom of expression through the story of a Saudi Arabian activist.

Radio Canada Estrie, Canada’s public radio, has launched a documentary cartoon that traces the steps of activist Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, blending compelling visual elements to tell a complex story.

The documentary-come-graphic novel, Raif Badawi – Dreaming of Freedom, is the first project of its kind for Canadian public radio, which wanted to test the comic format as a journalistic means to engage audiences with issues of human rights and freedom of expression in a more interactive way. The documentary cartoon was published on 5 October on an adaptive site that allows readers to flick through the blogger’s life and hardships on any type of screen.

Badawi was arrested in June 2012 for criticising the Saudi government via his blog. In May 2014, Badawi was sentenced to ten years in jail and a thousand lashes. Subsequently, his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their children fled to Quebec in 2013. Badawi is currently serving his sentence in Saudi Arabia.

Whilst it was impossible to talk to Badawi directly, due to the hostile climate of the region that prevents journalists from writing and talking about dissidents, Radio Canada managed to portray an accurate picture of his life and vicissitudes. Producers collected material from Badawi’s relatives and friends, many of whom remain anonymous to avoid repercussions. Some of the statements featured in the documentary are also sourced from his own writing and previous interviews.

A similar interactive project was launched in 2015 by the Australian public broadcaster Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), with their interactive graphic novel ‘The Boat’, which portrays the plight of Vietnamese refugees as they escape the ravages of war after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

With Dreaming of Freedom, Radio Canada is joining other public broadcasters in advancing innovative ways to adapt complex issues and make them available for all audiences without reducing their intricacy. Perhaps most importantly, this documentary affirms the important role public media plays in communicating and encouraging a discussion around crucial issues to audiences of all ages.

Dreaming of Freedom is available in both French and English.