Free Waleed Abu al Khair Now !

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Waleed Abu al-Khair Should Not Be Falling Leaf of Lost Saudi Spring

2On July 12, 2012 the Time magazine published a story titled “In Saudi Arabia, Dissent Is Alive and Well, but Only Online or in Private”. The video that accompanied the story shows Saudi rights lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khiar, on frame 43 second, saying “Every day I say to myself they will arrest me”. On 15 April 2014 Waleed was on his way to appear before a criminal court in Riyadh after a court in Jeddah sentenced him in October 2013, to three months in prison, but never implemented the sentence.

The Riyadh court session was supposed to be the fifth in Waleed’s appearance before the criminal law specialized in terrorism cases. Charges against him were about “contempt of judiciary”, “communicating with foreign entities”, “disgrace of country reputation through the media” and finally “incitement against country’s regime”.

How and why these are “terrorism-related” charges is not puzzling in a country where law has never been defined, and maybe not entirely surprising in an environment that showed no tolerance for dissent.

On that day, Waleed’s phone never answered incoming calls and no one knew if he was arrested for that sentence or because of any other charge. Next day, wife Samar Badawi traveled from Jeddah to Riyadh where the court told her that he was arrested and transferred to the notorious al-Hayer prison. She was not allowed to communicate or speak to him upon arrival at the detention facility.

Waleed received a sentence of 15 years imprisonment, out of which ten years to be served and five suspended in addition to a 15-year travel ban and a monetary fine in the amount of 200,000 Saudi Riyal (around USD 53,329). But the court of appeals severed Waleed’s sentence to 15 years of actual imprisonment with no suspension because he refused to “regret his actions”.

Some of the actions that he was implicated with include the gatherings which he used to convene in his Jeddah house, every Tuesday to discuss rights and politics- which the Time’s story referenced above videotaped one. You may see a young-man with a Che Guevara T-shirt in this video, but what you should not miss noticing is the spirit of discussion, the level of intelligence, the deep concern about state of the society and a keen desire to have a say in what is going around them. Sitting beside Waleed in this video is wife Samar Badawi, who also modeled the contemporary Saudi women who no longer accept to set in a dark corner of the house not able to discuss with others or even listen to what they say.

Waleed Abu al-Khair in one of weekly Salons he hosted at house in Jeddah in 2012- TIME video

Waleed Abu al-Khair in one of weekly Salons he hosted at house in Jeddah in 2012- TIME video

 

These moments/promises of liberty faded away completely in Saudi, albeit, at the time, they were evidently inspired by the massive public mobilization in neighboring Arab countries- revolutions or uprising you may want to call them regardless of what they evolved to now.

Waleed Abu al-Khair arrest is one of a number of many that targeted prominent rights defenders in the kingdom, including those who have created non-governmental organizations and spoke critically of the State arbitrary and repressive practices. He himself took a number of cases to defend political prisoners in the Kingdom. In his capacity as lawyer, he defended one of the defendants in the case known as Jeddah Reformists case in 2007. He brought a case against the Public Investigation Department (Mabahith) in 2009 for detaining his client Abdul Rahman al-Shumairi without charges.

Two significant stops in Waleed’s human rights defense path in Saudi, were his role in establishing the Human Rights Observatory in Saudi in 2008 and defending the founder of the Liberal Network in Saudi, Raif Badawi who was charged with insulting Islam.

When Human Rights Watch reviewed charge sheet against Wlaeed, it found out that it hardly contain anything but little extracts from statements gave to a number of different media in addition to critical tweets from his timeline on twitter. The sentence “shows how far Saudi Arabia will go to silence those with the courage to speak out for human rights and political reform”. Amnesty International framed his arrest as part of “ongoing crackdown on dissent” and as punishment “for his work protecting and defending human rights”. He is a “prisoner of conscience” Amnesty conclude.

It has not apparently been enough to deprive Waleed from liberty and block 15 years of his life in prison for nothing but practicing a basic commodity of speaking out. On August 11, the Dublin based Frontline Defenders reported that Waleed was moved from Jeddah prison to Malaz prison in Riyadh and that he has been beaten and pulled on the ground. Basically lynched him- and that only shows how far Saudi authorities may go in ill-treating those who will dare to speak out.

His twitter account is still active, and while operated by friends and supporters, it still feed the messaged he himself would have posted with regards to what seems an endless course of arbitrariness, abuse, injustice and discrimination in Saudi. Nevertheless, too many people miss him, particularly his new born Jude who came to this world after he was arrested. In June this year, Waleed will be 36 years old and Jude will be less than a year old. If he served his 15-year sentence, he will be around 51 years old when he comes out and Jude will be around 16.

Waleed should not be a falling leave of what was hoped to be Spring in this lawlessness environment which Saudi is. His freedom is essentially an equivalent of sustaining hope for millions of Saudi young men and women that, some day; hopefully soon, they can freely talk.

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Saudis’ reaction to Waleed Abulkhair’s fifteen year sentence

Today judge Yousef Gharam Allah Al Ghamdi of the Specialized Criminal Courts used the new antiterrorism law to sentence human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair to fifteen years in prison, two hundred thousand Riyal fine and another fifteen years travel ban upon Abulkhair’s release.
For more background on the Abulkhair case and the new antiterrorism law, click here.
Here is some of what many Saudis on Twitter have written about the court’s verdict:To see the more click here

Saudi Arabia: Prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair’s sentence increased to 15 years in prison

To see the details,,,

1/7/2011 Global Voices: Saudis Stymied by Fear. Article By: Waleed Abu alkhair

( Source )

 July 1, 2011.

People in Saudi Arabia don’t have much personal experience of political organisation or protest. But we have watched the uprisings in the region very closely, feeling that these were our revolutions too – we are all Arab and we all feel the pain of dictatorships.

When the revolutions began in Tunisia and Egypt, our government here was very afraid. They dedicated billions of dollars and created 30,000 new jobs in the security sector to combat any potential unrest, as well as taking steps to strengthen the religious establishment even further. The government knows that in Saudi Arabia, religion has huge power. Here, we are told that to protest goes against Islam – and that to have a good relationship with God we first of all must have good relations with our king.

It’s true that some Saudis want to keep the regime the way it is. The royal family alone has some 20,000 members and they control everything – all the government ministries. And there are many rich people here because of our oil – and this oil is all we have. But a lot of people do suffer and live a hard life. And they know if they raise their voices, the consequences will be very serious. It’s not that people don’t want change; it’s that they don’t have the ability to bring it about.

There are some small signs, though. For instance, women are starting to drive cars, even though this is still banned in Saudi Arabia. My wife drives our car and was one of the first to speak out about this issue. In fact, last year she was in prison for seven months because of her activism. Women who drive are being arrested – just this week I heard a woman from my hometown of Jeddah was sent to prison and that five more women were arrested for driving. The authorities know very well that a woman driving a car is the first step towards freedom – so to continue to control them, even this small freedom has to be stopped.

Ten weeks ago, some activists held a demonstration outside the interior ministry to protest the fact that more than 10,000 people had been held in prison for over a year without facing charges or trial. It was broken up and more than 300 people were forced to sign agreements vowing to never protest again; more than 20 others were sent to prison where they still remain, also without being formally charged.

And three months ago we published a petition, signed by more than 10,000 people, calling for our political system to be replaced by a monarchy similar to what they have in Jordan or Morocco. The answer to that was that we were condemned for asking for something which was “against God’s wishes”.

The two main responses which greet any kind of criticism of the regime or calls for reform are, “It is not the right time” or “A foreign agenda is behind this”. The same thing happened with our petition.

The fact is that I have been told many times by United States officials that good relations with Saudi Arabia are vital for them. So they cannot back any political activism – the best they can do is show support for some kinds of social change. Backing people who want to change the system is out of the question. We know that we will get no support from outside in trying to change our country.

What happened in Bahrain, when Gulf security forces, including troops from Saudi Arabia, were invited in by the regime to quash the uprising there, was partly an attempt by the authorities here to send a message to their own people. They were warning us that what happened in Bahrain could easily happen to us too – and no help will be forthcoming from outside, either.

I hope that people will become braver, the more revolutions they see taking place elsewhere. There are reports every day that more women are driving, and there have been proposals for a mass hunger strike to continue to protest the ongoing unlawful detention of prisoners.

It is not easy to be an activist in Saudi Arabia. I have been taken into custody for investigation many times; I have been beaten; my wife is banned from leaving Saudi Arabia; and my Twitter, my Facebook account and my website are blocked. I have no doubt they want to put me in prison and one day this will happen – the authorities are just waiting for a good opportunity.

26/11/2013 The Washington Post: Sentenced in Saudi Arabia for peaceful activism. Article By: Waleed Abu alkhair

( Source )

 November 26, 2013.

Waleed Abu Alkhair is a human rights activist in Saudi Arabia.

Last month, a judge in Saudi Arabia sentenced me to three months in prison simply because I stood with victims of my country’s flawed and discriminatory criminal justice system.

The 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.

The Saudi government allows no public dissent. We who have challenged government policies or social taboos know that we will face Saudi “justice” sooner or later.

I am also on trial before Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, the Specialized Criminal Court, on charges that include “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “inflaming public opinion against the ruler.” All of the evidence against me stems from my peaceful activism. If convicted, I could be sentenced to years in prison.

As a human rights activist, I have helped many victims of injustice battle for their rights in Saudi courts, including Samar Badawi, whom I helpedescape years of physical and emotional abuse by her father. Her father had her jailed for “parental disobedience” after she fled to a women’s shelter. I got Samar out of the shelter and to safety, and we later married.

In early 2012, as I was leaving for a fellowship in the United States, authorities at the Jiddah airport wouldn’t let me board the plane, saying that I had been barred from foreign travel. Prosecutors later told me that I would be facing charges for a variety of vague and spurious offenses, including “insulting the judiciary” and “distorting the reputation of the kingdom.” At no point have prosecutors alleged that I have committed any act an ordinary person would understand to be criminal behavior.

The outcome of my trial before the terrorism tribunal is most likely predetermined, as judicial outcomes often are in Saudi Arabia. As my trials have progressed, I have watched as dozens of political and human rights activists, many of them friends, faced an all-out assault by Saudi Arabia’s flawed and arbitrary criminal justice system. Among them are Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani, who are serving 11- and 10-year jail sentences, respectively, merely for peacefully calling for political and human rights reforms.

I will appeal my verdict, and if the appeals court upholds the ruling I intend to serve the sentence. Maybe I’ll get a pardon, maybe not.

What is certain, though, is that the rules of the game are changing, and the authorities know it. Empowered by new forms of communication and dissent, particularly social media, ordinary Saudis are voicing opposition to government oppression in record numbers.

Interior Ministry officials think they can end this fledgling activism simply by throwing the most prominent activists in prison for long periods, but we’ve already progressed beyond that point. Saudi citizens aren’t nearly as isolated as they once were, and more are learning every day how their government fails to ensure the most basic degree of justice in society.

It’s increasingly hard for many Saudis to stomach that someone like me, a peaceful activist, could be sentenced to a long jail term for, in part, helping my wife escape terrible abuse, while her father, who committed the abuse, walks free.

I don’t know what will happen in the next few months, but one thing is certain: Whether I go to jail or not, I will continue to work for those who, like me, have been caught in the harsh clutches of my country’s arbitrary and cruel justice system.

20/04/2012 The Washington Post: Steadfast in pursuing a freer Saudi Arabia. Article By: Waleed Abu alkhair

( Source )

 April 20, 2012.

Waleed Abu Alkhair is a human rights activist in Saudi Arabia.

Hamza Kashgari visited me several times before he wrote the ill-fated tweets that led to his arrest in February and then to solitary confinement in a Riyadh prison. We discussed social, political and philosophical issues, including some that are taboo in Saudi Arabia. I warned him that his thoughts, if expressed publicly, would lead religious hard-liners to call for his blood.

I find it outrageous that in the 21st century one person could threaten another with death merely for embracing ideas other than religion, God and the prophet Muhammad. But that is exactly what happened at a weekly salon that focuses on political, religious and human rights issues. I named the salon “samood,” a richly textured Arabic word meaning “resistance” or “steadfastness.”

Every week, I am host to several dozen people at my home, most of them politically engaged Saudi youth. I started the salon after government and religious authorities clamped down on gatherings of liberal youth in cafes and bookstores in the wake of Hamza’s arrest, severely constricting the space for free expression in this city. The oppressive trend has accelerated as religious hard-liners have mounted a vicious campaign to cleanse society of what they deem “unbelief” and “deviant thought”: in reality, any ideology different from their own.

At one of the salon gatherings, I had the pleasing epiphany that religious hard-liners have begun to lose control of a young generation that is hungry for freedom. A brave young man responded passionately to clerics whom I had naively invited to participate in the salon and who had threatened him for supporting freedom of expression and belief, saying: “Who are you? Who are you to inflict your religious guardianship upon us? We are free, free to say what we like. You are just like us, not better. The era of religious guardianship is over.”

There was a stunned silence.

Rapt in admiration, I thought about how only 10 years ago I was expected to blindly obey the dictates of an Islamist organization — and how, then, I never would have dared to engage in a debate with its disciples. Those of us born in the 1970s, when extremist religious thought was at its apogee in Saudi Arabia, had a single choice if we wished to serve our communities: Join an Islamist organization.

Much has changed in Saudi society in the past decade. For a brief time, Saudi human rights activists had hoped that religious conservatives could agree with us on a general framework of human rights, including the demand for a constitutional monarchy, the release of prisoners of conscience, the fight against official corruption and civil rights for all. Many thousands of activists from across the political spectrum signed petitions for reform, most notably the 2011 statement “A State of Rights and Institutions.” Unfortunately, just because some people signed petitions does not mean that they genuinely believed in a system of human rights.

The Kashgari affair separated the religious hard-liners — those who demanded the death penalty for his alleged crime of blasphemy or apostasy — from genuine human rights activists. The religious conservatives have declared war, not simply on freedom of expression but also on freedom of belief. The hard-liners believe that they will lose their hold on the Saudi street, were the youth to embrace ideas opposed to religion. In essence, they wish to institute Orwellian practices in Saudi Arabia, by criminalizing mere thought.

Making use of social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, religious hard-liners have launched an online inquisition against those who dare to think freely. In a frightening development, a judge and some clerics demanded in February that I be given the death penalty for allowing guests at my salon to speak freely. For the time being, I remain free.

But many young Saudis insist on freedom of expression and belief, and they are proud of their values of justice, tolerance and human rights. They give me hope. Our resolve is unshakable, whatever difficulties lie ahead.

And the road ahead is indeed difficult. Last month the public prosecutor’s office in Jiddah informed me that I was banned from traveling outside the country for “security reasons.” The ban came two days before I was scheduled to go to the United States to participate in a fellowship program sponsored by the State Department. A few days earlier, my wife, Samar Badawi, had returned from the United States as a proud recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage award, bestowed upon her by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama. She suspects that her award angered Saudi authorities and led to the ban on my travel.

I am unable to leave this country, but the sun of humanity shines upon me every day. I bask in its rays, gaining strength against the darkness of oppression. My voice and the voices of others like me shall reach the world, no matter how hard they try to silence us. We shall say, consistently and proudly: steadfastness.

Saudi rights lawyer jailed for 15 years

Waleed Abulkhair jailed for “inciting public opinion” and “undermining judicial authorities”, wife says.

Waleed Abulkhair, centre, was also banned from travelling abroad for 15 years [Twitter]

Waleed Abulkhair, centre, was also banned from travelling abroad for 15 years [Twitter]

A Saudi court has sentenced a prominent rights lawyer described by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience to 15 years in jail, relatives said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The tweet on Sunday said that Waleed Abulkhair, who has had many run-ins with the authorities over his activism and for allegedly insulting authorities, was also banned from travelling abroad for 15 years and fined 200,000 riyals (around $54,000).

His wife, Samar Badawi, in a telephone interview with AFP, stressed that Abulkhair contested the ruling and refused to recognise it.

“Waleed does not recognise the legitimacy of this court, refuses to accept its verdict and has no intention to appeal,” as allowed under the law, said Badawi.

He was convicted on a series of charges, she said, including “undermining the regime and officials” as well as “inciting public opinion” and “undermining judicial authorities”.

Abulkhair has been under arrest since April 16.

Rights group Amnesty International at the time called for his immediate release, saying he was being clearly 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.”

He is already facing other trials in cases linked to his activism.

‘Insulting judiciary’

In October, he was sentenced to three months in prison for “insulting the judiciary” and a petition he signed two years ago criticising the authorities.

That same month he was briefly held for setting up an “unauthorised” meeting place where pro-reform activists gathered, but was later freed on bail.

In June 2012, he was accused of “disrespecting the judiciary… contacting foreign organisations and signing a petition demanding the release of detainees,” some of whom were being held for suspected terror links, his wife said at the time.

Three months earlier, authorities banned him from travelling to the United States where he was due to attend a forum organised by the State Department.

Abulkhair set up a group on Facebook – Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi – which has thousands of members.

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The Olof Palme Prize 2012