Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the Saudi authorities to immediately release prominent human rights lawyer, Walid Abu Al-Khair, who was sentenced in 2014 to 15 years in prison for his peaceful advocacy for human rights.
In July 2014, the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) condemned Abu Al-Khair for criticising the kingdom’s human rights record, particularly the harsh sentences issued against those who criticise it on social media.
The court has also banned him from travel for another 15 years and imposed a fine of 200,000 riyals ($53,000). Abu Al-Khair is currently serving his sentence in the Dhahban prison, north of Jeddah.
Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, Michael Page, said:
Stifling peaceful dissent with outrageous sentences has shown the Saudi government’s lack of commitment to serious political and civil reform.
“A serious reform campaign, no matter how Saudi-funded public relations propagandists spin it, doesn’t entail locking up human rights defenders for 15 years for courageously speaking up,” Page added.
The court convicted Abu Al-Khair of six charges including “seeking to remove legitimate authority, harming public order in the state and its officials, inflaming public opinion and disparaging and insulting judicial authority, publicly slandering the judiciary, distorting the kingdom’s reputation, making international organisations hostile to the kingdom, and issuing unverified statements that harm the kingdom’s reputation and incite against it and alienate it; founding an unlicensed organisation; and violating Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law.”