While appearing for a court hearing, albeit behind closed doors, human rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abulkhair was sent to prison. He was out on bail following his three-month sentence last October for “insulting the judiciary,” the “authorities” and “holding unauthorized meetings.” The regime has become totally paranoid but its oppressive tactics seem not to work as people are posting messages on YouTube demanding basic rights.
Thursday April 17, 2014, 11:17 DST
Jeddah-based Saudi lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair has been imprisoned by the regime for allegedly “insulting the kingdom’s authorities.” His wife, Samar Badawi was told yesterday that he had been imprisoned after he appeared in a Riyadh court a day earlier.
Abulkhair was on bail after he was handed a three-month sentence last October for what was alleged as holding unauthorized meetings for human and civil rights activists. He was also accused of “insulting the judiciary” and a petition he had signed two years earlier criticizing the Saudi authorities.
This was the lawyer’s fifth hearing in court. Before heading to the closed-door court hearing, Abulkhair told his wife that he was switching off his cell phone. She did not hear from him after that.
“I found out today [Wednesday] from the court that the judge has ordered his arrest and he has been sent to the Ha’ir prison,” Ms. Badawi said. She tried to visit her husband in prison but the jailers told her, her husband was not allowed any visitors.
It is not clear how long will he be in prison for but his wife said “I went to the Interior Ministry and they told me to return in two weeks to get a permit.” So it is certain that he would be in prison a lot longer than the two weeks required to get a visitor’s permit.
Abulkhair said on his Twitter prior to April 15 hearing that he was on trial for “defying the ruler, insulting authorities, forming two organizations, and incitation.”
The human rights lawyer has stood with victims of Saudi Arabia’s flawed and discriminatory criminal justice system. In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on November 26, 2013, he wrote:
“My country’s legal system is based on uncodified principles of Islamic law, which leaves judges largely free to decide what actions, in their view, are crimes, as well as the appropriate punishments. I believe that the Interior Ministry actively encourages religious extremism and intolerance among the judiciary, recognizing that judges with these views are far more willing to convict human rights and civil society advocates of vague religious and social offenses.
“One of the principal causes of my conviction was my reaction to the unfair trial of 16 men known as the “Jiddah reformers,” nine of whom were trying to set up a human rights organization. Prosecutors castigated them as extremists and terrorists, and a judge sentenced all of them to lengthy jail terms. I signed a statement in 2012 criticizing the convictions and calling for the men’s release. That signature was the basis of my conviction last month [October 2013].”
Abulkhair has faced other challenges and threats. He has been subjected to character assassination and was put on trial before Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, the Specialized Criminal Court, on charges that included “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “inflaming public opinion against the ruler.”
As part of his human rights activities, Abulkhair has helped many victims of injustice and abuse. He helps them battle for their rights in Saudi courts where judges hand down arbitrary sentences that have little or nothing to do with the law. In fact, the verdict often depends on the judge’s mood.
They are especially harsh on women because they consider them to be the source of all evil and instruments of the devil. The case of Samar Badawi is not uncommon. She was the victim, for many years, of physical and emotional abuse by her own father. He had her jailed for “parental disobedience” after she fled to a women’s shelter. Abulkhair eventually succeeded in getting Samar out of the shelter and to safety, and later married her.
Now Ms Badawi is fighting for her husband’s rights and freedom.
Despite the draconian measures imposed by the Saudi regime trying to crush calls for reform or freedoms, the people seem to have lost fear. This has become evident from the number of people posting messages on YouTube that have received millions of visitors in a matter of days.
Activists say there are more than 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Last October, the UK-based Amnesty International censured Saudi authorities for not addressing the “dire human rights situation” in the kingdom.
The group also handed in a paper to the United Nations, which included information regarding a “new wave of repression against civil society, which has taken place over the last two years.”
Since promulgation of the new decree (no 44), repression has intensified but people are not intimidated and speaking out against the regime.