After years of defending human rights activists as a legal advocate in Saudi courts, he was called in front of a terrorism tribunal at the end of 2013 for a trial that from its earliest days was declared a farce by human rights organizations. This was not the first time Mr. Abu al-Khair was made a target of the justice system, having first faced trial in 2011 for signing a petition that called for government reform.
During the fifth hearing in front of the terrorism tribunal he was jailed mid-trial under the January 2014 anti-terrorism law, which covers verbal acts that harm the reputation of the state. Mr. Abu al-Khair was eventually sentenced to ten years for his activism amid growing international condemnation of Saudi repression. His decision not to disavow his beliefs led to this week’s further sentencing.
Unfortunately, Mr. Abu al-Khair’s case is not unique. As more Saudis have begun to speak out against government repression, the monarchy has responded by escalating its crackdown on dissent, including by using the already dubious terrorism tribunal system to punish human rights defenders.
It is ironic that while Saudi officials condemned the brutal killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, and their Ambassador attended the rally in Paris, their Justice Ministry was preparing to carry out the first of 1,000 public lashings of Raif Bawadi. Like the cartoonists, Mr. Badawi has been accused of insulting Islam, and like them and his former lawyer, Mr. Abu al-Khair, he was simply exercising his nonviolent right of freedom of expression. Needless to say, his persecution has drawn an international outcry, including by many of those who joined the Saudi government in denouncing the attacks in Paris….
….I urge the Saudi government to release Mr. Abu al-Khair and Mr. Badawi and dismiss the spurious charges against them. This kind of repression and barbarity have no place in the 21st Century.
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