The Saudi regime has lost its mind. Waleed Abulkhair, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, has just been sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined 200,000 Saudi riyals ($54,000). His only crime is to call for reforms and release of political prisoners.
Sunday July 6, 2014, 18:09 DST
The Saudi regime has just shot itself in the foot, again. A prominent human rights lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in jail and banned from traveling abroad after completing his jail term. He was also fined 200,000 Saudi riyals ($54,000) by a court in Jeddah.
Even the regime’s western backers—Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for instance—could not remain silent in the face of such brazen disregard for the rights of a prominent human rights activist in the kingdom.
What was Abulkhair’s crime that Amnesty International has described as a prisoner of conscience?
The regime accused him of insulting the authorities, undermining the regime and officials as well as inciting public opinion. He was also charged with undermining judicial authorities.
Amnesty International called for his immediate release when he was detained on April 16, saying he was being punished “for his work protecting and defending human rights.”
“He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Amnesty's Said Boumedouha.
He called the lawyer's detention “a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the verdict shortly after it was issued today.
“Waleed Abu al-Khair's harsh sentence shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those who speak out about human rights and political reform and it will go to any length to silence them,” said HRW Saudi researcher Adam Coogle.
Following his sentencing by a kangaroo court, Abulkhair’s wife, Samar Badawi, who was present in court at the time the verdict was handed down, said her husband contested the ruling.
“Waleed does not recognize the legitimacy of this court, refuses to accept its verdict and has no intention to appeal,” she said.
Last October he was sentenced to three months in prison for “insulting the judiciary” and a petition he signed two years ago criticizing the authorities. How could he insult an institution whose members have regard for the rule of law; there is no written legal code in the country and judges deliver verdicts based on whim aimed at pleasing the rulers.
Abulkhair has in the past been convicted of organizing “unauthorized” meetings of pro-reform activists.
He has had a long run with the Saudi authorities and the judiciary simply because he calls for reforms and respect for the rights of people. In June 2012, he was accused of “disrespecting the judiciary... contacting foreign organizations and signing a petition demanding the release of detainees.”
Only in the Saudi kingdom are such activities deemed illegal.
Abulkhair set up a group on Facebook - Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi - that has thousands of members.
The regime may be able to lock up courageous people like Abulkhair behind bars but it will not be able to silence them.
His long incarceration will result in creating thousands of other Abulkhairs. There is already a growing movement in the kingdom demanding reforms and no longer afraid to speak out against the regime’s corruption and unresponsiveness to the needs of the people.