Today, a group of NGOs sent a letter to Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia expressing concern over the ongoing detention and ill-treatment of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and blogger Raif Badawi. The undersigned urged Prince Mohammed bin Naif to immediately release al-Khair and Badawi from prison and to dismiss all charges against them.
On July 6, 2014, human rights lawyer Abu al-Khair was convicted by the Specialized Criminal Court in Jeddah and sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15 year travel ban, and a fine equivalent to $53,000 in relation to his work as founder and director of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. On 8 May 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison, and a one-million Saudi Riyals fine for insulting Islam after he created a public forum for debate. Al-Khair was Badawi’s lawyer.
“We urge Prince Mohammed bin Naif and the Saudi government to immediately release Waleed Abu al-Khair, Raif Badawi, and all peaceful activists in the kingdom,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia should be working with human rights activists and lawyers to ensure internationally-protected rights are upheld, not violated.”
Of particular concern to the undersigned NGOs is the Saudi government’s abuse of anti-terrorism legislation to target human rights defenders. In 2008, the government of Saudi Arabia established the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) under the guise of prosecuting terrorism-related cases. In the seven years since its inception, however, the court has used anti-terrorism legislation to almost exclusively target human rights activists and government critics.
“Human rights should be a priority in Saudi Arabia, as they should be around the world,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Releasing Prisoners of Conscience, like Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, will send a powerful message that the new king is committed to human rights reforms.”