A Saudi human rights lawyer is in trouble, again. A prominent United Arab Emirates lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair was taken into custody in the city of Riyadh on Tuesday. An activist lawyer, al-Khair was arrested after appearing in court, where he was accused of multiple charges including sedition or inciting public opinion against the Saudi monarchy. The case is in connection with al-Khair’s advocacy work with his organization, Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He set up the group on Facebook and has nearly 9,000 members.
According to his wife, Samar Badawi, the lawyer has been sent to al-Ha’ir prison near Riyadh. She told the Associated Press on Wednesday that she was being denied access to her husband and that the guards would not tell her why he was in custody. She said that prison officials told her to get an Interior Ministry permit. “I went to the Interior Ministry and they told me to return in two weeks to get a permit,” she said.
Al-Khair was already on bail for earlier charges wherein he was accused of supporting reformists against the ruling monarchy of the United Arab Emirates, and for holding unauthorized meetings with them. At the time of his most recent arrest, al-Khair was at his fifth hearing for his trial.
In an earlier decision passed down but the courts in February, al-Khair had been sentenced to three months in prison. His crime? He had signed a petition in June 2012 that demanded the release of certain political detainees, who were reported to have terrorist links, and had asked for an in-depth investigation into the killings of protestors. Al-Khair has appealed the February verdict.
Another court in Jeddah had sentenced the human rights lawyer to three months in October 2012 for a 2011 petition against what he called, the unauthorized imprisonment of activists seeking political change. An appeals court in the Muslim holy city of Mecca had confirmed the sentence in February, but the authorities had allowed him to remain free on bail.
A well-known social and human rights activist, al-Khair has been repeatedly accused of disrespecting the authorities, establishing an association without permission, and defying the ruler of the ultraconservative Arab kingdom. In the United Arab Emirates, dissent by citizens like the prominent lawyer can lead to long terms of detention. International human rights groups have said that the Saudi government has recently instituted a tough crackdown to curb and eliminate socio-political and religious upheaval.
Denying any such irregularities, the Interior Ministry Spokesperson, Major General Mansour al-Turki said the arrest was made under a court order. He referred any other further questions to the Justice Ministry but no officials were available for immediate answers.
According to his wife, she last heard from al-Khair when he told her that he was switching off his cellphone before entering a room for closed hearing in court. Badawi said that she had no idea when she would hear from him next and that “Waleed has always been having human rights demands, now the time has come to pay the price for these demands.”
Badawi said that her husband was always being accused of rebelling against the government and the Saudi monarchy just because he supported reform in the kingdom. Besides repeatedly detaining the prominent United Arab Emirates lawyer, the Saudi government had also banned him from travelling to the United States in 2012, where he was due to attend a forum organized by the State Department.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay.