Calling for reforms in Saudi Arabia is considered “terrorism”. A prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair has been tortured and being moved from prison to prison because he had dared to defend those that called for reforms in the kindgom. His case has moved even Human Rights Watch to issue a statement about his torture.
Saturday August 16, 2014, 9:53 DST
The Saudi regime is extremely intolerant of any dissent or criticism of its policies but it appears to have special hatred for the human rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abulkhair.
In a rare rebuke even the circumspect Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based group, said Abulkhair was beaten up while being forcibly moved between prison.
The 35-year-old lawyer was imprisoned in Jeddah following a 15-year sentence handed to him last month for criticizing the arrest and sentencing of another activist that had called for political reforms in the kingdom.
He was also accused of “insulting the judiciary” and “undermining the regime” by calling for reforms and exposing its corruption.
Human Rights Watch said Abulkhair was dragged from his cell in chains and beaten after he refused to cooperate with the prison transfer. He was being moved from Jeddah where his family lives to a prison in Riyadh more than 1,000 km away.
Since his arrest last April, he has been moved five times between different prisons. This is meant to create problems for members of his family especially his wife Samar Badawi because they have to travel long distances to see him.
Further, prison authorities under orders from the regime have imposed severe restrictions on family visits. Each prison has to grant its own permission, which is often not forthcoming or delayed, before the family can see him.
Moving him between prisons means the family has to apply for permission each time he is moved to a new prison. When he was sentenced last month, his wife was refused permission to visit him.
When she made the application to the interior ministry to be allowed to see her husband, she was told it would take two weeks before her application is considered. Why that should be the case was not explained.
It is not difficult to speculate: the regime wants to make it as difficult as possible for the family especially the wife who is also seen as a thorn in its side because it was her plight—she was beaten by her father and then imprisoned in April 2010 that moved Abulkhair to take up her case and secure her release in October of the same year—that has so riled the regime.
Abulkhair also initiated an international campaign to secure Samar Badawi’s release. It proved highly embarrassing for the regime. After her release, Abukhair married her but the regime was not going to let the matter rest there. It went after Abulkhair and he has faced various charges since 2011.
In an attempt to humiliate him, the regime put Abulkhair on trial at the Specialized Criminal Court in Jeddah that was set up in 2008 to try terrorism cases.
Calling for reforms, exposing the regime’s corruption or defending people that call for reforms is considered “terrorism” in the medieval kingdom occupied by the House of Saud.
The court found Abulkhair guilty of “undermining the regime and officials”, “inciting public opinion” and “insulting the judiciary.”
He was sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined 200,000 riyals ($53,000). He was also banned from travel for 15 years after he served his sentence.
He has been held in solitary confinement since last April when his trial started.
He refused to appeal his sentence because he did not accept the validity of the court, according to his wife Samar.
Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay censured Saudi Arabia for harassing human rights activists under a failed judicial system.
Pillay singled out the case of Abulkhair and called on Saudi authorities to immediately release all those people serving long jail terms just for peacefully advocating human rights in the kingdom.
There are 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
“Abulkhair’s case is a clear illustration of the continuing trend of harassment of Saudi human rights defenders, several of whom have been convicted for peacefully promoting human rights,” Pillay stated in a news release last month.
The Saudi legal proceedings against Abulkhair do not conform to international human rights law, including the Convention against Torture, according to Ms Pillay.