Saudi Arabia Adds 5 Years to Human Rights Lawyer's Prison Sentence

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Saudi judge has sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer to an additional five years in jail, after he refused to show remorse or recognize the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition.

Waleed Abu al-Khair, founder and director of watchdog group Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail on charges that included breaking his allegiance to King Abdullah, showing disrespect for the authorities and creating an unauthorized association.

The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh also gave Abu al-Khair a five-year suspended sentence, fined him 200,000 riyals ($53,300), banned him from leaving the kingdom for a further 15 years after his eventual release, and shut down all his websites.

Abu al-Khair's wife, rights activist Samar Badawi, said the court had decided on Monday to increase his sentence after an appeal by the public prosecutor, who had argued that the lawyer
had failed to retract his views or express remorse over them. The judge accepted the request and increased the sentence to 15 years of imprisonment.

Badawi said her husband, who is 35, had long objected to the tribunal set up in 2008 to try terrorism suspects. It has since been used to send rights campaigners to prison.

"Waleed sees this court as lacking basic international standards for any tribunal and had objected to trying even terrorists in it, let alone rights activists," she said.

Abu al-Khair has also been critical of a Saudi anti-terrorism law passed in early 2014, which is widely seen by activists as a tool to stifle dissent.

The anti-terrorism law says 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."

In the past year 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.

Last year after Abu al-Khair’s first sentencing, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the verdict and said “this outrageous sentence against Waleed Abu al-Khair shows how far Saudi Arabia will go to silence those with the courage to speak out for human rights and political reform.”

The world's top oil exporter regularly dismisses criticism of its rights record by human rights and campaign groups. The Saud family rules the kingdom and members of the royal family hold most top governmental and military positions and have extensive business interests.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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