Saudi Arabia: LRWC and Others Nominate Waleed Abu al-Khair for the 2017 American Bar Association International Human Rights Award | Joint Letter

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LRWC, the Law Society of England and Wales, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Union Internationale des Avocats joined to nominate imprisoned Saudi Arabian lawyer and human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair for the American Bar Association 2017 International Human Rights Award. The nomination is supported by Human Rights Watch.

2017 American Bar Association (ABA) International Human Rights Award

24 February 2017


American Bar Association
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
United States of America

Re:      Nomination of Waleed Abu al-Khair for the 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award

Nominee: Waleed Abu al-Khair
Date of birth: 17 June 1979
Nationality: Saudi Arabian
Address of usual residence: Saudi Arabia, Jeddah


Dear Sir/Madam,


In accordance with the request of the American Bar Association (ABA) for nominees for the 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award, the following international human rights organizations — Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L), the Law Society of England and Wales (LSEW) and the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) —recommend and nominate human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair of Saudi Arabia for the 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award.

Please find enclosed the following documents for your consderation:

  1. ABA International Human Rights Award Nomination Form 2017;
  2. Curriculum vitae of Waleed Abu al-Khair dated 10 December 2015; and
  3. Biography of Waleed Abu al-Khair dated 10 December 2015.

Waleed Abu al-Khair is one of the best-known advocates for democratic and human rights reform in Saudi Arabia.  He has used the written and spoken word coupled with his legal knowledge to fearlessly advocate for reforms to improve the lives of all in Saudi Arabia by calling on the Government of Saudi Arabia to allow its citizens to enjoy internationally protected rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and the right to participate directly and indirectly in public affairs.  He has done this work through writing and public speaking, by representing causes and clients unpopular with the Government of Saudi Arabia, by providing a safe space for peaceful discussion of issues of public concern and by providing people with an example of responsible advocacy for justice for all.  At the risk of his own personal and professional safety and security, Waleed Abu al-Khair persisted in using his training and skills as a lawyer to be an outspoken advocate for an elected parliament, an independent judiciary, a constitutional monarchy and recognition of internationally protected human rights.  He has also advocated on behalf of prisoners of conscience and written many articles identifying human rights abuses and the need for legal reform.  He recommended reliance on the rule of law and proper legal procedures to effect reform and settle disputes and differences of opinion and never advocated or used violence as a means of opposition.

In 2012 he was awarded the Olof Palme Prize for “…his strong, self-sacrificing and sustained struggle to promote respect for human and civil rights for both men and women in Saudi Arabia. Together with like-minded citizens and colleagues, Waleed Sami Abu al-Khair does so with the noble goal of contributing to a just and modern society in his country and region”.[1]

Waleed Abu al-Khair received the XXth Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights International Prize in 2015.[2]

Details of Waleed Abu al-Khair’s outstanding contributions to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of all people in Saudi Arabia and their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law are provided in the curriculum vitae enclosed.

The Government of Saudi Arabia responded to this peaceful human rights advocacy on 1 April 2012 by banning him from traveling outside Saudi Arabia.  In 2013 he was charged with a variety of vague and over-broad offenses aiming at sanctioning his advocacy for recognition of human and democratic rights.  When these fabricated offenses resulted in a sentence of “only” three months, the Government of Saudi Arabia re-charged him with further offenses of similar nature, which resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years.

On 15 April 2014, the Nominee was arrested while appearing at the fifth session of his trial before the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh.  On 28 May 2014, at the seventh session, Judge Yousef Al-Ghamdi stated that the Petitioner was charged under the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, Royal Decree No. 44 (12/2013).  On 26 June 2014, during the eighth session of the trial before the same court, the Nominee stated that he would not attempt to further defend or respond to the charges and accusations, citing persistent refusal by the prosecution and court to properly consider the defenses raised.

On 6 July 2014 the Nominee was convicted of:

  • “seeking to discredit state legitimacy”;
  • “abuse of public order in the state and its officials”;
  • “inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary”;
  • “publicly defaming the judiciary and discrediting Saudi Arabia through alienating international organizations against the Kingdom and making statements and documents to harm the reputation of the Kingdom”;
  • “running an unauthorized association and being its chairman speaking on its behalf and issuing statements and communicating through it”;  and
  • “preparing, storing and sending what would prejudice public order”.

The trumped-up charges all arose from the Nominee’s engagement in peaceful activities associated with his work as a lawyer and a human rights defender.  His activities are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other instruments, including the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in an Opinion dated 26 October 2015,[3] determined that the detention of Waleed Abu al-Khair is arbitrary, being in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Articles 9 (freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention), 10 (fair trial rights), 19 (freedom of expression) and 20 (freedoms of assembly and association) and recommended that Saudi Arabia immediately release him.  In rendering this Opinion, the WGAD, concluded that Waleed Abu al-Khair was, in reprisal for work protecting and defending human rights.  The WGAD concluded that Waleed Abu al-Khair was imprisoned “solely for exercising … rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association” and that his deprivation of liberty resulted from grave and systematic violations of fair trial rights.  The WGAD specifically identified violations of Waleed Abu al-Khair’s right to a fair and public hearing by an impartial, independent and competent tribunal and to have criminal offences against him defined with sufficient precision to allow avoidance and defense.

Waleed Abu al-Khair has vigorously advocated for the recognition of human rights and democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.  Through personal endeavour, he has made an outstanding contribution to protecting the rights of individual clients, to advocating for legal reforms to ensure the implementation and enforcement of internationally protected rights within Saudi Arabia, to advocating for the advancement of democratic reform.  He has also encouraged and provided space for peaceful public discussion and has provided education through writing and speaking about the need for and potential of democratic reform.  He has done so in an environment where such advocacy is dangerous due to undemocratic state rule, uncodified laws and the absence of access to a “competent, independent and impartial tribunal” to determine rights and provide remedies for violations.  His contribution to the recognition of human rights, democratic reform and an independent judiciary has led to his own prosecution and imprisonment.  Accordingly, he experienced firsthand the full destructive power of a failed legal system that offers no protection against the arbitrary use of power by the state, no protections for basic human rights and no remedies for violations.

In addition to Mr. Abu al-Khair’s nomination for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and receipt of the XXth Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights International Prize in 2015[4] and the 2012 Olof Palma Prize in 2012,[5] on 15 November 2016 the Law Society of Upper Canada announced Waleed Abu al-Khair as one of the two recipients of its biennial 2016 Human Rights Award (the “LSUC Award”).  In bestowing upon him the LSUC Award, the Law Society of Upper Canada recognizes Waleed Abu al-Khair’s

… extraordinary contributions to the advancement of human rights and promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia over the course of his career as an advocate, made at high personal cost, [which] demonstrate the highest ideals of the legal profession.[6]

The situation of the Nominee remains grave. On 8 March 2016, he was physically assaulted by a prison official reportedly because he had expressed his objection to, and protested against, the beating of a fellow prisoner who was experiencing racist treatment due to his Ethiopian heritage. He has been denied access to medication and special foods for a medical condition, and has lost approximately 20 kg.  He is housed separately from all other prisoners of conscience and has been beaten on occasion.  On 7 June 2016, Waleed Abu al-Khair commenced a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment.  He ended his hunger strike on 12 June 2016 when prison authorities promising a medical examination, daily visits to the prison library and permission to receive books.  He is now allowed one 13 minute visit (separated by sound proof glass) per week with his sister mother and infant daughter. No other visits are allowed and he is not allowed to receive or send written communications.  On three occasions Waleed Abu al-Khair has been brought before officials from the Ministry of the Interior and pressured to confess to wrongdoing by signing a formal apology and pledge to remain silent in the future.  The officials threaten that if he signs a prepared apology and pledge to remain silent, he will be released and if he does not sign, he would remain in prison for a long time.[7]  To date, Waleed Abu al-Khair has refused these demands and reportedly angered officials.

The Nominee is an example for other advocates of human rights all over the world and is a source of inspiration to endure everything that comes their way and still persevere in the pursuit of equal rights for all, especially with regard to the right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.

The nominators are therefore most proud to recommend Waleed Abu al-Khair as the recipient of the 2017 ABA International Human Rights Award in recognition of his extraordinary and selfless advocacy to promote, protect and advance human and democracy rights for all in Saudi Arabia.  We refer the ABA to his curriculum vitae for a list of his work and contribution to the human rights situation for all people in Saudi Arabia.


Yours truly,

Gail Davidson
Executive Director, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
3220 West 13th Avenue
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6K 2V5
Tel: +1 604 736 1175;
Email:; Web:

Adrie van de Streek
Executive Director, Lawyers for Lawyers
P.O. Box 7113, 1007 JC Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0) 20 7171 638
Email:; Web:

Dr. Marina Brilman
International Human Rights Policy Adviser, Law Society of England and Wales
International Department
The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL
Direct dial +44 20 73205918
Email:; Web:

Julie Gofin
Human Rights Coordinator, Union Internationale des Avocats
25 rue du Jour – 75001 Paris – France
Tel : +33 1 44 88 55 61 – Fax : +33 1 44 88 55 77
Email:; Web:



On behalf of the Nominating Organizations

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers and others who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by: protecting advocacy rights; campaigning for jurists in danger because of their human rights advocacy; engaging in research and education; and working in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) is an independent and non-political Dutch foundation and is funded by lawyers’ donations. The foundation was established in 1986 and has special consultative status with ECOSOC since 2013.

The Law Society of England and Wales is the professional body representing more than 166,000 solicitors in England and Wales. Its concerns include the independence of the legal profession, the rule of law and human rights throughout the world. The Law Society has Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 2014.

Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA – International Association of Lawyers)

The UIA brings together several thousand members and hundreds of bars, federations and associations from over 110 countries. Open to all legal professionals, the UIA promotes the fundamental principles of the legal profession and the development of legal knowledge in all fields at the international level.

Contributes to the professional growth of its members through the exchange of information in forums established by its Commissions and Working Groups. Intervenes frequently all over the world on behalf of lawyers who are imprisoned or persecuted for practising their profession.

[1]       Olof Palmes Minnesfond, 2012, online: <>.

[2]       The XXth “Ludovic-Trarieux” Human Rights International Prize 2015, online: <>.

[3]  (A/HRC/WGAD/2015).

[4] The XXth “Ludovic-Trarieux” Human Rights International Prize 2015, online: <>.

[5] Olof Palmes Minnesfond, 2012, online: <>.

[6] Letter from Paul B. Schabas, Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada to Waleed Abu al-Khair dated 15 November 2016.

[7] The pledge reportedly requires the prisoner to apologize and express regret for statements and actions, to admit to being foolish and accepting from outside Saudi Arabia, ideas against Islam and the royal family and to promise to reject such ideas, be loyal to the royal family and not to communicate with the media.