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Human Rights Lawyer Sentenced in Saudi for Signing Protest
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International reported on Wednesday that Saudi authorities have sentenced to prison a prominent human rights lawyer for signing a petition in 2011 that happened to criticize Saudi Arabian authorities for their heavy-handedness in dealing with 16 reformists.
The lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair has been a defense lawyer in prominent human rights cases in Saudi Arabia. He was recently involved in leading the defense of Raif Badawi, a well-known Saudi Arabian blogger. Badawi was sentenced this July to seven years in prison, and 600 whip lashes for insulting religious authorities by creating and managing a website, among other charges.
Many of the signatories of the petition for reform that Waleed Abu al-Khair signed are currently serving long prison sentences for criticizing the authorities. The petition was one of the most prominent in Saudi Arabia during the time of the Arab Spring.
It called for an end to police shootings of Shi’a Muslim protesters in eastern Saudi Arabia and called for the freedom to assemble peacefully among other demands.
Waleed’s sentence comes a week after a number of countries strongly criticized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia at the United Nations.
Following their embarrassment at the United Nations, Saudi authorities have started targeting human rights activists and human rights organizations in a bid to silence dissent and claiming the organizations are biased in their views.
Waleed told the Amnesty International that, “Because the calls for reform have increased, an intensive campaign was launched to silence human rights defenders and to control public opinion.”
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International said Waleed’s “trial is yet another example of how the authorities abuse the justice system to silence peaceful dissent in Saudi Arabia.”