Saudi Appeals Court Upholds 15-Year Jail Term for Human Rights Lawyer

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An appeals court in Saudi Arabia has upheld a 15-year jail term for a human rights lawyer who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, a watchdog said Wednesday.

The Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal, Saudi Arabia's infamous “terrorism tribunal,” confirmed on Sunday the latest verdict against Waleed Abu al-Khair, the Gulf Center for Human Rights said.

In January an appeals court ordered Abu al-Khair to serve the full 15 years of his jail sentence.

He was convicted last July on a series of charges including "inciting public opinion," but the last five years of the sentence were initially suspended.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights, which has offices in Beirut and Copenhagen, said Abu al-Khair was transferred on February 4 from a prison in his home city of Jeddah to one in the capital Riyadh.

"It's believed that his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the trial court, in addition to not giving an apology to the court, were the reasons behind his recent transfer," the center said on its website.

Abu al-Khair, founder and director of watchdog group Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), was the lawyer for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who is serving 10 years in jail and has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Badawi received the first 50 lashes on January 9 but subsequent weekly sessions have not been carried out. His case has sparked worldwide outrage.

A Norwegian parliamentarian nominated Badawi and Abu al-Khair for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

In the past years, Saudi authorities have 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.

Saudi Arabia's legal code follows a strict version of Sharia according to its Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Judges are trained as religious scholars and have a broad scope to base verdicts and sentences on their own interpretation of religious texts.

Human rights organizations and activists have called on Saudi Arabia to end death sentences and other brutal punishments, accusing the Saudi regime of curbing freedom of speech and opinion.

Western-allied Saudi Arabia has beheaded 31 since the start of 2015. Last year, the oil-rich kingdom executed 87 people, up from 78 in 2013, according to an AFP tally.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are punishable by death in the kingdom.

Political activism can also be penalized by death, as Saudi Arabia, like neighboring Bahrain, has taken a zero tolerance approach to all attempts at protest or dissent in the kingdom.

In 2014, Saudi judges passed death sentences down to five pro-democracy advocates, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, for their part in protests.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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