Saudi Arabia: lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair to spend another birthday in prison

This Saturday, 17 June, lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair will spend yet another birthday in prison, his fourth behind bars.

Abu al-Khair is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. A founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) Abu Al-Khair has written over 300 newspaper articles. In 2015, he won the largest prize in the field of human rights in Europe, the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize. He has also been awarded the Swiss Freethinker Prize and the Swedish Olof Palme Award, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by two members of the Norwegian Parliament on two occasions, in 2016 and 2017.

Abu al-Khair has dedicated his life to holding the Saudi Arabian government accountable for human rights abuses, providing legal representation to many victims in Saudi Arabia, including Raif Badawi, the founder of the Saudi Liberal Network internet discussion group who is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence. This Saturday, 17 June, also marks the fifth anniversary of Badawi’s arrest.

In response to the Saudi authorities introducing further restrictions on freedom of expression by shutting down gatherings of liberal youth in public spaces, deeming their discussion ‘unbelief’ and ‘deviant thought’, Abu al-Khair started hosting salons at his home for politically engaged Saudi youth. He named the salon ‘samood’, an Arabic word meaning ‘resistance’ or ‘steadfastness’. Topics included politics, religion, culture, and human rights. In February of that year, a judge and some clerics demanded that he be given the death penalty for allowing his guests at the salon to speak freely about ideas opposed to religious conservativism.

In February 2014, Saudi Arabia passed a new anti-terrorism law, using a vague definition of terrorism to crack down on free speech. Abu al-Khair was the first human rights activist to be tried and convicted under the law.  On 6 July 2014, the Specialised Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, sentenced him to 15 years in prison, a 15-year ban on travel abroad, and a fine of 200,000 Saudi Riyals. He was convicted on a number of charges related to his peaceful activism, including comments in the media and on Twitter criticising Saudi human rights violations. He was sentenced on charges including ‘striving to overthrow the state and the authority of the King’; ‘criticising and insulting the judiciary’; ‘assembling international organisations against the Kingdom’; and ‘inciting public opinion’.

On 12 January 2015 the ruling was upheld at the Court of Appeal: Abu al-Khair refused to apologise or recognise the legitimacy of the Specialised Criminal Court. He is now in Dahban Central Prison in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.


Spread the word

Share details of Waleed’s case with friends and colleagues and on social media – #FreeWaleed – and follow @waleedabulkhair on Twitter.

Join the London vigil for Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Raif Badawi

9-10am, Friday 16 June

To mark Waleed Abu Al-Khair’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of his client, blogger Raif Badawi’s, arrest, English PEN will be hosting a vigil at the Saudi Embassy in London and continuing to call for their immediate release.

We will be joined by colleagues from Bread and Roses TV, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Index on Censorship, One Law For All, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Reporters Without Borders. Please join us if you can.

NB Activists are asked to meet at the Curzon Street entrance to the Embassy. (note: the postal address of the Embassy is 30-32 Charles Street, Mayfair, London).

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