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Saudi Arabia

An appeals court in Saudi Arabia has upheld a 15 year jail sentence for prominent human rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abulkhair.

Abulkhair was convicted in July 2014, and tried under the new anti-terrorism law, where he was convicted on a series of charges including “inciting public opinion”. Activists previously confirmed to Middle East Eye that the law was intended to target activists and to silence any form of political dissent or calls for reform.

According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Saudi’s Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal - which hears terrorism cases - confirmed the verdict on Sunday.

Five years of Abulkhair’s sentence were initially suspended. In January, another court ordered him to serve the full 15 years of his sentence. The following month, he was transferred from a prison in his home city of Jeddah to one in the capital Riyadh.

“It’s believed that his refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the trial court, in addition to not giving an apology to the court, were the reasons behind his recent transfer,” said the Gulf Centre for Human Rights on its website.

Abulkhair is the founding member of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), an independent human rights organisation established in 2008. His outspokenness and activism resulted in Saudi authorities banning him from travelling outside the country since 2012.

In one of his first acts that challenged the Saudi authorities, Abulkhair along with other activists signed a reform petition in 2007 that requested the ruling government to transform from an absolute monarchy to a democratic system, where people would have the right to participate in free elections.

International human rights organisations like Amnesty have issued appeals and petitions demanding the release of Abulkhair.

“Authorities in Saudi Arabia are clearly punishing Waleed Abulkhair for his work protecting and defending human rights,” Said Boumedouha, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International said last year. “He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Abulkhair has been on trial since 2013, where he was accused in October of that year by the Specialised Criminal Court of “breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler,” disrespecting the authorities,” “offending the judiciary,” “founding an unlicensed organisation,” and “inciting international organisations against the Kingdom”.

Amnesty International believes that the evidence for all of these charges were based on Abulkhair signing a petition that criticised the oppressiveness of the Saudi Arabian authorities in dealing with 16 reformists.

Abulkhair was the lawyer of a number of high profile cases that were victims of human rights violations, including his wife Samar Badawi. Samar was imprisoned for six months in 2010 under the charge of “disobedience under the Saudi Arabia male guardianship system.” She had sued her father for refusing to allow her to marry, and won her case with Abulkhair as her lawyer. The two later married.

Another well-known former client of Abulkhair is Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who is serving a ten year sentence in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. Badawi received the first 50 lashes on 9 January but subsequent weekly sessions have not been carried out. His case has sparked worldwide outrage.

A Norwegian parliamentarian nominated both Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-court-upholds-15-year-sentence-human-rights-lawyer-894395603#sthash.NNSYXUQN.dpuf

UPDATE: July 2014--Saudi human rights activist Walid Abu al-Khair has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on sedition charges. He's the founder of Monitor Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi court in Jeddah also banned al-Khair on Sunday from travelling outside of the ultraconservative kingdom for an additional 15 years and slapped him with a 200,000 riyal ($53,300) fine. His websites were also shut down.

He was convicted on charges of breaking allegiance to King Abdullah, disrespecting authorities, and creating an unauthorized association. Al-Khair has been under house arrest since April 16.

"Walid does not recognize the legitimacy of this court, refuses to accept its verdict and has no intention to appeal," al-Khair's wife, Samar Badawi, told the AFP news agency.

According to Badawi, her husband faces other charges for setting up the group Monitor Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRS) without a permit. She says that al-Khair sought a permit, but received no response from the authorities. Afterward, he set up an MHRS Facebook page which has attracted thousands of followers.

The lawyer has been critical of Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism law, which critics say is used as a pretext to stiffle political dissent. Under the law, terrorism is defined as any act that "disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of state."

Saudi human rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abu al-Khair is currently in Riyadh’s Malaz Prison awaiting the resumption of his "criminal" trial before Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, the Specialized Criminal Court, on charges that include “breaking allegiance with the king,” “making international organizations hostile to the kingdom,” and “setting up an unlicensed organization.” A judge jailed Abu al-Khair on April 15 without allowing him to notify his family, and until now authorities have not disclosed the basis of his detention.

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered Abu al-Khair’s detention when he attended a hearing in his case on April 15, 2014. Since his arrest the authorities have not allowed him to contact family members, who had no knowledge of his whereabouts for 24 hours. Abu al-Khair faces charges based solely on his peaceful human rights work, including “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “making international organizations hostile to the kingdom.”

“Saudi authorities have repeatedly harassed Abu al-Khair for his human rights work, and now they’ve suddenly jailed him without letting him notify his family,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should free Abu al-Khair immediately and drop the charges against him.”

On February 4, Abu al-Khair lost an appeal of a separate Jeddah Criminal Court conviction for signing statements critical of Saudi authorities, and received a prison sentence of three months. It is unclear whether his detention is connected with the Jeddah conviction. Police in Jeddah arrested Abu al-Khair on October 2, 2013 and held him for one night for hosting a weekly discussion group for reformists, but prosecutors have yet to file criminal charges in that case.

Abu al-Khair attended the fifth session of his trial before the Specialized Criminal Court on the morning of April 15, travelling from his home in Jeddah to Riyadh. A lawyer, Abu al-Khair is representing himself during the proceeding and did not bring family members or trial monitors to the hearing. After several hours, Abu al-Khair’s organization, the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, released a Facebook statement stating that Abu al-Khair had gone missing and could not be reached by his mobile phone, which was switched off.

On the morning of April 16, Samar Badawi, Abu al-Khair’s wife, travelled to Riyadh to search for him. She told Human Rights Watch that officials at the Specialized Criminal Court informed her that the court had ordered Abu al-Khair’s detention, and authorities had taken him to al-Ha`ir Prison south of Riyadh. Badawi travelled to the prison and confirmed with prison officials that Abu al-Khair was present, but was not allowed to speak with him. She told Human Rights Watch that neither court nor prison officials told her the basis of Abu al-Khair’s detention.

Later, Samar Badawi reported that authorities allowed him to speak to her by phone for one minute on April 17, 2014.

Abu al-Khair is known for his legal defense of other human rights activists, including Abd al-Rahman al-Shumairi, one of the so-called Jeddah reformers, a group of around a dozen men known for their public stances demanding human rights and political reform in Saudi Arabia. Authorities arrested them in February 2007, allegedly for gathering funds for terrorism.

Abu al-Khair is also the supervisor of the Facebook group “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia,” whose website is blocked in the kingdom.

His detention comes amid an ongoing campaign to silence human rights defenders and civil society activists throughout the kingdom. In March 2013, a court sentenced Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), to 10- and 11-year prison terms respectively on vague charges such as “harming public order” and “setting up an unlicensed organization.” A court in the central town of Buriada convicted and sentenced to prison ACPRA members Omar al-Sa`id and Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr on similar charges in 2013. ACPRA member Fowzan al-Harbi is currently on trial.

On April 8, authorities detained independent political activist Abdulaziz al-Ghamdi, who publicly supported ACPRA and helped the families of imprisoned ACPRA members.

Saudi authorities regularly pursue charges against human rights activists based on their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights obligations. The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression under article 32. Under the United Nations General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to “impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“The jailing of peaceful activists shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those even speaking about human rights and political reform,” Stork said.

WHEREAS: Waleed Abu al-Khair is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for his peaceful work as both a human rights activist and as a lawyer defending the rights of other activists;

AND WHEREAS: His imprisonment and 15-year prison sentence are part of a broader campaign by the Saudi government to crackdown on peaceful dissent;

AND WHEREAS: Both his draconian prison sentence and the broader crackdown are thus illegal under international human rights covenants and internationally-recognized principles of jurisprudence;

THEREFORE: We, the undersigned, demand that the International Community, at ALL levels, bring ALL possible pressure to bear upon the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to IMMEDIATELY and UNCONDTIONALLY release Waleed Abu al-Khair and all other Saudi prisoners of conscience and drop all charges against them.

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The Free Saudi Human Rights Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair petition to UN, Ban ki-Moon, OHCHR, Navi Pillay, State Department, EU, European Parliament, White House, Amnesty was written by John S. Burke and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.