7/7/2014 Project On MiddleEast Democracy: Prominent Saudi Activist Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

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Photo Credit: Al-Khair’s Twitter

According to Saudi Press Agency, a court on July 6 sentenced Waleed Abu al-Khair, founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), to 15 years in prison followed by an equally long travel ban over charges including “insulting the regime and its officials” and “forming an unauthorized organization.” Following the sentence, MHRSA issueda statement explaining the details of the court hearing, denying the legality and neutrality of the trial, and calling on international organizations to stand by al-Khair. Sarah Leah Whitsonfrom Human Rights Watch said, “This outrageous sentence against [al-Khair] shows how far Saudi Arabia will go to silence those with the courage to speak out for human rights and political reform,” adding “putting a peaceful activist behind bars for at least a decade over his social media comments and statements to news media is a new low.”

Critical to the Saudi regime’s oppression on demands for reforms, al-Khair was arrested and detained in April under the January 2014 anti-terrorism law. The new law states that terrorist crimes include any act that “disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state.” Various rights groups condemned the law as a tool to stifle political dissent. Virginie Dangles from Reporters Without Borders condemned the “arbitrary detention,” saying that “This trial is a tragic travesty orchestrated by the Saudi authorities with the aim of gagging all dissident voices.” Amnesty International also previously expressedconcerns over al-Khair’s detention, affirming, “Authorities in Saudi Arabia are clearly punishing [him] for his work protecting and defending human rights.”

Saudi Arabia has been criticized by international rights groups for “jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organization to damaging the reputation of the country.” However, Saudi officials have “regularly dismissed” these criticisms.

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