The sentencing of a prominent Saudi Arabian lawyer and human rights defender to 15 years in prison has dealt a fresh blow to peaceful activism and freedom of expression in the Kingdom, said Amnesty International. Waleed Abu al-Khair, who used to represent Raif Badawi, was charged with“inciting international organizations against the government” and “breaking allegiance to the ruler” among others. He will also be subject to a 15-year travel ban after his release.
“Waleed Abu al-Khair’s conviction on charges relating to national security is entirely unjustified and provides alarming evidence that the Kingdom’s new anti-terrorism law is going to be used to repress peaceful political dissent,” said Said Boumedouha Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“By sentencing a peaceful activist to 15 years in prison, Saudi Arabia’s authorities are sending a clear message that vocal critics of the authorities will be severely punished simply for speaking out. Waleed Abu al-Khair is a prisoner of conscience, he must be immediately and unconditionally released and his conviction and sentence must be quashed.”
Waleed Abu al-Khair’s wife, Samar Badawi, told Amnesty International she was saddened when she first heard the news, but is very proud of her husband: “It is an unjust and oppressive court ruling and Waleed's position of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of this court and to appeal the decision are honourable,” she said.
He is the latest in a long list of human rights activists who have been harassed, intimidated and imprisoned by Saudi Arabia’s authorities in recent months.