(LRWC) Call for Release of Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair

Call for Release of Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair

NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Promoting human rights by protecting those who defend them

http://www.lrwc.orglrwc@portal.ca – Tel: +1 604 736 1175 – Fax: +1 604 736 1170

3220 West 13th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. CANADA V6K 2V5

June 27, 2016


The Honourable Stéphane Dion

Minister of Foreign Affairs

125 Sussex Drive

Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2


Dear Minister Dion;

Re:      Call for Release of Imprisoned Human Rights Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair 

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) writes to inquire what action has been taken on our letter of 26 May 2016 asking you to request Saudi Arabia to immediately release wrongly imprisoned human rights defenders Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi. In making that request, LRWC joined Amnesty International Canada, which has identified both Mr. Badawi and Mr. Abu al-Khair as prisoners of conscience. LRWC writes to repeat our request that your office take action directed at ensuring the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi.


Waleed Abu al-Khair is a world renowned human rights lawyer, democracy advocate and the founder of Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA). Raif Badawi is widely known as a human rights and democracy activist and founder of the Saudi Arabian Liberals online forum. Mr. al-Khair acted as Mr. Badawi’s lawyer during Mr. Badawi’s trial in 2012.

Waleed Abu al-Khair has received awards for his extraordinary human rights work. In 2012 he was awarded the Olof Palme Prize for “… his strong, self-sacrificing and sustained struggle to promote respect for human and civil rights for both men and women in Saudi Arabia. Together with like-minded citizens and colleagues, Waleed Sami Abu al-Khair does so with the noble goal of contributing to a just and modern society in his country and region”.[1] In 2015, Waleed Abu al-Khair was awarded the XXth Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights International Prize.[2] The award is Europe’s most prestigious tribute to human rights activism and was initially bestowed on Nelson Mandela.

Raif Badawi has also received numerous awards for his work. In 2015 he was the recipient of the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament for the defence of freedom of thought and human rights. In the same year he was also awarded the Sir Karl Popper Prize, the PEN Pinter Prize, the Strasbourg Award Medal of Honor, the Franco-German Journalism Prize, the Thomas Dehler medal, the Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders, the Freedom of Speech Award from Deutsche Welle, the Courage Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy and the Aikenhead Award from the Scottish Secular Society. He was awarded the One Humanity Award from PEN Canada and the Netizen Prize from Reporters without Borders in 2014.

The arbitrary detention of Mr. Abu al-Khair has continued since 15 April 2014 and that of Mr. Badawi since 17 June 2012. In July 2014, Mr. Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15 year travel ban to begin on his release and a fine of SAR 200,000 (approximately $68,000 CAD). Mr. Badawi was sentenced on 30 July 2013 to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes. The sentence was increased on 7 May 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.


International Human Rights Obligations

The imprisonments of Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi constitute grave and continuing violations by Saudi Arabia of its international human rights obligations and cannot be justified by any reasonable interpretation of the domestic law of Saudi Arabia. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded in October 2015 that the detentions of Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi are arbitrary and in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The WGAD determined that the imprisonment of Mr. Abu al-Khair contravenes the UDHR Articles 9 (freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention), 10 (right to fair trial), 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 20 (freedom of association and assembly) and the imprisonment of Mr. Badawi contravenes Articles 9 and 10 of the UDHR. The WGAD recommended that Saudi Arabia immediately release both men.[3] Saudi Arabia has refused to comply with the WGAD recommendation. While in prison, both men continue to be at risk of being subjected to torture and other treatment prohibited by the UDHR and the UN Convention against Torture. The UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee have both determined that flogging, part of the sentence arbitrarily imposed on Mr. Badawi, is prohibited by the Convention against Torture.[4] In May 2016 the UN Committee against Torture noted that reports made in 2014 of the in-custody torture of Mr. al-Khair have not been investigated and remedied as required by the Convention against Torture.[5]

Saudi Arabia’s international law obligations arise from a variety of sources. As a member of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia is legally obligated to respect the provisions of the UDHR and other uncontroversial instruments identifying state duties to protect and ensure the fulfillment of fundamental rights and freedoms, including rights protected by the UDHR. As a party to the Convention against Torture (23 September 1997), Saudi Arabia is legally bound to prevent and punish all treatment prohibited by the Convention. As a current member of the UN Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia has agreed, and is mandatorily obliged to, “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”[6] The UN General Assembly may suspend a member of the Human Rights Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights. The arrests, convictions and sentencings of Waleed Abu al-Khair are grave examples of gross and systemic human rights violations by Saudi Arabia against people seeking to engage in peaceful human rights advocacy through the exercise of internationally protected freedoms of expression, association, assembly and dissent.

These violations of international human rights obligations by Saudi Arabia continue while Canada’s economic relationship with Saudi Arabia expands. Canada has announced plans to affirm the contract made “between the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and the Saudi regime, [giving] General Dynamics Land Systems Canada a 15-year contract to sell light armoured vehicles to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.”[7] According to recent rankings, Canada has become the second largest arms dealer in the world to the Middle East, following only the United States in total sales.[8] Canada continues to trade with Saudi Arabia despite a number of factors: a/ Minister Dion’s commitment before the United Nations Security Council and on behalf of Canada, to protect civilians in conflict zones;[9] b/ evidence that Canadian-manufactured weapons are being used against civilians in Saudi Arabia;[10] and, c/ the “bedrock principle of Canadian export control policy … that Canadian arms exports would not contravene international law including UN arms embargoes, would not contribute to gross human rights abuses and would not undermine international peace and security”.[11] The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has stated that it is merely following the rules set in place by the government.[12] Having chosen to be an economic partner with Saudi Arabia, Canada cannot ignore Saudi Arabia’s violations of international human rights obligations.

In addition, Canada has a duty to encourage Saudi Arabia to comply with its human rights obligations, arising from Article 1.3 of the Charter of the United Nations, which obliges member states to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all.” As a party to the Convention against Torture, Canada’s duty to prevent and punish torture is owed erga omnes and therefore to both Mr. Abu al-Khair and Mr. Badawi. The Prime Minister had recently confirmed that “it’s part of Canada’s identity that we stand up for human rights.”[13] Canada is not honouring its obligations under the Charter of the United Nations, the UDHR and the Convention against Torture to promote and encourage respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia and to take effective action to prevent and punish torture wherever it happens. By ignoring Saudi Arabia’s gross human rights violations in the cases of Waleed Abu al-Khair, Raif Badawi and others, Canada sends a message of political support for those and other violations.

Canada’s responsibility to request the immediate and unconditional release of Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi is enhanced by significant Canadian involvement in both of these cases. Mr. Badawi’s wife and children have resided in Canada since 2013 and have been granted refugee status. Mr. Abu al-Khair’s attempt to establish registration of MHRSA in Canada is one of the ‘offences’ for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 2012, MHRSA was registered as a society in the Province of Ontario after registration had been refused in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Abu al-Khair’s subsequent request to the King of Saudi Arabia for recognition of MHRSA sparked an investigation by the Interior Ministry, which resulted in Mr. Abu al-Khair being charged and wrongly convicted of six illegitimate charges one of which was a charge of ‘setting up and supervising an unlicensed association, referring to MHRSA.’

LRWC calls on Canada to request that Saudi Arabia immediately and unconditionally release Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi from prison.

We thank you in advance for your prompt action and look forward to your response.


Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC               Maya Duvage, LRWC member


Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers and others who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by protecting advocacy rights, campaigning for human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy, engaging in research and education and working in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Copied to:

Hélène Laverdière

NDP Critic, Foreign Affairs


The Honourable Tony Clement

Conservative Critic, Foreign Affairs


Luc Thériault

Bloc Québécois Critic, Foreign Affairs


Lisa Barrett

Green Party of Canada Critic, International Affairs


Ms. Mónica Pinto,

Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

SRindependenceJL@ohchr.org ;

Mr. Maina Kiai,

Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association


Mr. David Kaye,

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression


Mr. Michel Forst,

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders


Mr. Juan Ernesto Méndez,

Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment


Rosemary McCarney

Canadian Ambassador to Geneva


H.E. Ambassador Naif Bin Bandir Alsudairy

Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Canada


Ambassador Dennis Horak

Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia


The Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, OC

Founder and Chair, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights


*To see original letter or for further information please contact Mr: Yahya Assiri yahya.i.assiri@gmail.com


[1] Olof Palmes Minnesfond, 2012, online: <http://www.palmefonden.se/2012-radhia-nasraoui-och-waleed-sami-abu-alkhair-2/>.

[2] The XXth “Ludovic-Trarieux” Human Rights International Prize 2015, online: <http://www.ludovictrarieux.org/uk-page3.callplt2015.htm>.

[3] Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-third Session, 31 August – 4 September 2015, No. 38/2015 (Saudi Arabia), Advance Unedited Version, A/HRC/WGAD/2015, 26 October 2015 at paras. 82 to 84.

[4] See Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture: Saudi Arabia. 06/12/2002. CAT/C/CR/28/5, paras. 4, 8; Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture, Qatar, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/QAT/CO/2 (2013), para. 12; and decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee in George Osbourne v. Jamaica, Communication No. 759/1997, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/68/D/759/1997 (2000), 15 March 2000 at paras. 9.1, 11; and, Boodlal Sooklal v. Trinidad and Tobago, Communication No. 928/2000 (2 February 2000), CCPR/C/73/D/928/2000. 25 October 25 2001 at para. 4.6.

[5] Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations on the second periodic review of Saudi Arabia, Advance Unedited Version, Adopted by the Committee at its fifty-seventh Session 18 April – 13 May 2016 at paras. 6 and 7.

[6] Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 60/251. Human Rights Council, 3 April 2006, A/RES/60/251, at para. 9

[7] Paul Wells, “Justin Trudeau defends Saudi deal — ‘We’re not a banana republic’”, The Toronto Star (10 June 2016) online: <https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/06/10/trudeau-defends-saudi-deal-were-not-a-banana-republic-wells.html>.

[8] Steven Chase, “Canada now the second biggest arms exporter to Middle East, data show”, The Globe and Mail (14 June 2016) online: <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-now-the-second-biggest-arms-exporter-to-middle-east-data-show/article30459788/>.

[9] Global Affairs Canada, “Address by Minister Dion to the United Nations Security Council”, Government of Canada website (10 June 2016) online: <http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1083739>.

[10] Chase, above at note 4.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Canadian Press, “Canadian defence industry defends controversial Saudi Arabian arms deal”, Maclean’s (25 May 2016) online: <http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/canadian-defence-industry-defends-controversial-saudi-arabian-arms-deal/&gt;.

[13] Supra note 7.


American citizens signed a letter to the Saudi King, demanding the release of human rights activist.

A Closed letter from Human Rights Organisations to the Saudi leadership

Saudi Arabia: WGAD Petition for Relief – Waleed Abulkhair | Petition

Human Rights Watch and the Union 11535831_893126304079964_5504968508908934755_nInternationale des Avocats (UIA – International Association of Lawyers) have joined this Petition for Relief filed 14 April 2015 by Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Lawyers for Lawyers (the Netherlands), the Law Society of England and Wales (U.K.), the Law Society of Upper Canada, the International Federation for Human Rights- FIDH (France) and the World Organization Against Torture – OMCT (Belgium, Switzerland) and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (U.S).


Petition for Relief: In the matter of Waleed Abulkhair v. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Petition for Relief: In the matter of Waleed Abulkhair v. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.111

On the first anniversary of the detention of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair,  organizations  filed a Petition for Relief asking the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to confirm that his detention is arbitrary and to require his immediate release. The Petitioner was arrested 15 April 2014 and sentenced 6 July 2014 to 15 years in prison in violation of the UDHR, for representing clients and advocating for the recognition and enforcement of internationally protected human rights.  


From Al hayer Prison: Leaked pictures for detainee activist Waleed AbuAlkhair

photo_2015-07-17_14-21-46From Al hayer Prison: Leaked pictures for detainee activist Waleed AbuAlkhair | Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA)

Lighting a Candle for Waleed Abu al-Khair

1138-209502_samar_badawi_and_waleed_abu_al-khairOn 6 July 2014, the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Waleed Abu al-Khair to 15 years in prison, a 15-year travel ban, and a fine of 200,000 Saudi riyals. To mark the passing of one year since his unjust sentencing, the international human rights community has put forward a series of testimonials that highlight Waleed’s work as an attorney and human rights activist, detail the Saudi government’s efforts to silence him, and prove, as he has written, that “even from prison, you can still light a candle.”

Waleed’s Activism

Needed political and social reforms do not occur spontaneously, nor are they the products of wishful thinking. The establishment of an impartial system of justice in Saudi Arabia requires, as it has elsewhere, the personal endeavors of men and women like Waleed. In recognition of the importance of this struggle, the international community should continue using all avenues available to press for his immediate release and for the Saudi government’s adoption of real and lasting legal and political reform.”

-Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

As a proponent of political and social reform in Saudi Arabia, Waleed fully engaged in the struggle for human rights. In 2007, he and a group of activists released a petition entitled, “Parameters of a Constitutional Monarchy,” a bold challenge to the Saudi king’s unchecked powers. In 2008, Waleed organized a 48-hour hunger strike in solidarity with Saudi prisoners of conscience. That same year, he founded “Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia” (MHRSA), an independent human rights organization. He went on to support women’s driving campaigns and to educate international audiences on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Mounting pressure could not deter Waleed from his advocacy work, as evidenced by his decision to host a weekly discussion forum in his home called “Sumoud,” meaning “resistance” or “steadfastness” in Arabic, that became a space for conversations free from government oversight.

His Legal Work

I will continue to promote the goals of my client Mr. Abu Al-Khair and hope that democracy-loving countries around the world will insist that Saudi Arabia release those peaceful advocates of freedom and human rights who are only a threat to tyrannical despots too afraid to engage in rational discourse.”

-Daniel N. Arshack, Arshack, Hajeck & Lehrman; Waleed’s counsel

Waleed has utilized his position in the criminal justice system to defend prisoners of conscience and other marginalized voices. In 2009, he chose to represent several of the Jeddah Reformers, activists who had been detained without trial since 2007, against the powerful Ministry of Interior. After this action, the U.K. Embassy asked Waleed to take up the defense of a British citizen who had been imprisoned without trial for nearly four years, a challenge he accepted. Waleed alsodefended Samar Badawi, a women’s rights activist detained for disobeying her father. In 2012, he gained international recognition for his legal defense of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger arrested for establishing the Saudi Liberal Network website and “insulting the Islam.”

Government Harassment

Throughout the time that I have known Abu al-Khair, and on the many occasions that we have sat and spoken together, he has clearly articulated his absolute support for human rights, regardless of gender, skin color, appearance, or ideological background.”

-Yahya Assiri, head of ALQST and friend of Waleed (للنسخة العربية، اضغط هنا)

Government officials began to harass him in 2009, questioning him about his activities and leveling threats against his father and brother. In March 2012, when Waleed was slated to attend a 6-week democracy-building course at Syracuse University, New York, through the Leaders for Democracy Fellows Program, Ministry of Interior officials informed Waleed that they had banned him from traveling due to “security concerns.”


Having failed to silence Waleed Abu al-Khair through extra-judicial and other arbitrary means, the Saudi Arabian authorities convicted and imprisoned him for his work protecting and promoting human rights in Saudi Arabia. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately.”

Amnesty International

In October 2013, authorities arrested Waleed and charged him with “organizing illegal gatherings.” Later, the Jeddah Criminal Court sentenced Waleed to three months in prison for signing a public statement that condemned the trials of the Jeddah Reformers. A separate trial before the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s national security tribunal, also began that October.

In April 2014, Saudi authorities arbitrarily detained Waleed and sent him to al-Hair political prison. On 7 July 2014, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced him to his current 15-year prison sentence (with five suspended) on charges of “undermining the regime,” “inciting public opinion,” and “insulting the judiciary.” In January 2015, Waleed’s case was brought before the Special Criminal Court of Appeals; after he refused to acknowledge the court’s legitimacy, the presiding judge added the five suspended years to his total prison term and denied the possibility of parole.

Lighting the Candle

One year following his politically-motivated sentencing, ADHRB, Amnesty International, ALQST, and attorney Daniel N. Arshack can attest to Waleed’s character and embrace his aspirations for a more just, equitable, and stable Saudi society. We call on the Saudi government to secure his immediate release and vacate his conviction.

*On Wednesday, July 22 at 11:30 AM, ADHRB and Amnesty International will co-host an event,Arbitrary “Justice” in Saudi Arabia: How Activists Have Organized against Due Process Violations, at the offices of Open Society Foundations in Washington, D.C. Stop by to learn more about Waleed and other activists who have sacrificed their freedom to advance basic civil and political rights in Saudi Arabia.

To see the source click here

Michael Payne – 29th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council 01-07-2015

Ask the Saudi King to release Waleed Abulkhair in the spirit of Ramadan

Waleed Abulkhair

Waleed Abulkhair

In May of 2015, Maharat Foundation and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) launched the prisoners of conscience campaign in association with IFEX. The campaign seeks to shed light on the many activists and human rights defenders who have been imprisoned across the Arab region simply for expressing their opinions and beliefs. 

Every month, a new Arab prisoner of conscience will be spotlighted and their stories will be told. There are many ways that you can get involved to help demand their release, an improvement of their conditions, or at the very least, to let authorities know that these individuals will not be forgotten. 

Join us as we make it known around the world that #TheirFreedomIsTheirRight! 

This Month’s Prisoner: Waleed Abulkhair 

The prisoner of conscience for the month of June is Waleed Abulkhair. Waleed is an internationally recognized Saudi Arabian lawyer and human rights activist, as well as the head of the human rights organization the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. 

On 6 July 2014, a Special Court in Jeddah sentenced Waleed to 15 years in prison for his peaceful activism and criticism of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia voiced over Twitter and in media interviews. The charges were laid under the new anti-terrorism laws that have increasingly been used to target human rights defenders in the country.

In addition to the prison sentence, Waleed has also been stuck with a travel ban and fined 200,000 Saudi Riyals. He has been held incommunicado at the al-Hair prison since February of 2015, where activists and human rights defenders fear he has been the victim of torture and other abuse.

Tweet for Waleed’s freedom 

Urge King Salman to mark this Ramadan by giving Waleed his freedom. Send the tweet provided above, and any other messages with the common prisoners of conscience hashtag #TheirFreedomIsTheirRight or #حريتهم _حقهم

Want to do more? 

Post the photo of the prisoner of the month on your accounts, blogs or websites;

  • Write to the public prosecutor, the minister of interior, the president, or the leader of your country;
  • Encourage the press in your country to write about the case of the prisoner of the month.

To see the source click here

PEN International: Release Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair Immediately and Unconditionally

rbwLondon, 17 June 2015

‘All this cruel suffering happened to me because I expressed my opinion’ – Raif Badawi

17 June 2015 marks three years since the arrest of activist, blogger and editor Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia. Three years later he remains in prison for peacefully expressing his opinions and is facing 9,950 further lashes.

Raif Badawi had spent almost two years in prison before being convicted in May 2014 of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website’. He received a fine of 1 million riyals (approximately $266,000), a ten-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes, to be administered each Friday after noon prayers.

‘Raif Badawi’s cruel and degrading punishment is a violation of his basic human rights. We call on governments around the world to call for his immediate and unconditional release.’ Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

On 9 January 2015, Badawi received the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes he was sentenced to outside a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Subsequent rounds of punishment were postponed on medical grounds. In June 2015, the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold this draconian sentence.

PEN International continues to call for Badawi’s conviction to be overturned and for him to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for his sentence of flogging to be halted immediately, as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

PEN International also reiterates its call for the release of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in connection with his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

  • Release Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair Immediately and Unconditionally

  • This petition is to demand that His Majesty King Salman ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia release Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair immediately. Please complete and send the petition below to add your voice to ours. You may edit the petition if desired, before sending.