Saudi Arabia: five years since Waleed Abulkhair’s arrest

Today marks five years since Waleed Abulkhair was arrested in Saudi Arabia. Five years on, the leading lawyer, activist and writer remains behind bars simply for exercising and defending the right to freedom of expression. He is due to spend a further decade in prison.

Throughout the years since his arrest, English PEN and our members have supported Waleed Abulkhair, both online and offline. In 2018, we recognised his work in support of human rights and his extraordinary determination by awarding him the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage. On announcing Waleed as her co-winner, fellow writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie commented:

Waleed has dedicated his life to holding the Saudi authorities accountable for human rights abuses. He has dedicated his life to speaking out, to supporting the victims of those abuses. Waleed, like Harold Pinter, has shown a lucid dedication to telling his truth. But rather than being lauded for this dedication, Waleed has paid a heavy price – 15 years behind bars.

I am deeply proud to share this prize with Waleed and I hope that this small act of solidarity will bring him some comfort, and will remind him that his struggle has not been forgotten, nor will it be in vain.

We highlighted his case at the English PEN Modern Literature Festival in 2017, where writer and co-curator of the festival SJ Fowler performed in solidarity with Waleed.

We also continue to hold monthly protests in solidarity with Waleed and other detained writers and activists, including blogger Raif Badawi whom he represented in court on the final Friday of each month, while other friends continue to gather weekly.

As more and more activists and writers continue to be arrested, and in the wake of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year, it is crucial that we continue to show our support for them.

As Waleed wrote prior to his arrest

My voice and the voices of others like me shall reach the world, no matter how hard they try to silence us.

On the anniversary of his arrest, Cat Lucas, English PEN’s Writers at Risk Programme Manager, said:

It is heartbreaking to think of all the good Waleed could and would have done in this time.

We will continue to raise his case and to give him a voice wherever possible. And we hope that our collective voice will continue to reach him and to remind him that he is not alone.

Please join us in taking action for Waleed and in helping to ensure that they do.


Spread the word

Share details of Waleed Abulkhair’s case with friends and colleagues and on social media #FreeWaleed

Send messages of support

Send a message of solidarity for Waleed via

Join our monthly protests at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia

Please come along to our next vigil at the Embassy here in London at 1 – 2pm on Friday 26 April.

Every month, English PEN holds vigils at the Embassy in London in solidarity with Waleed Abulkhair and others detained in Saudi Arabia. These are usually held on the final Friday of the month at 1pm. NB activists are asked to meet at the Curzon Street to the Embassy.

Become a member of English PEN

Support our work for writers at risk around the world by becoming a member of English PEN.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

View all posts by Cat Lucas →

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