Saudi Arabia: Release lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair from arbitrary detention | Update

Waleed Abu al-Khair

January 2022 marks seven years since the 15-year prison sentence of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was confirmed by Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Court of Appeal on 12 January 2015. He was targeted for imprisonment because of his representation of clients unpopular with Saudi Arabia’s monarchy and for peacefully advocating for improved human rights in the country. He has also advocated for a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament.

He has been arbitrarily detained and ill-treated by Saudi Arabia since April 2014. Along with other human rights organizations, LRWC has been advocating for his release since January 2015 in communications to Saudi Arabia, the UN Human Rights Council, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).

Waleed Abu al-Khair founded the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHSA) through which he publicized human rights violations. When the registration of the MHSA was refused by officials in Saudi Arabia, the organization was registered in Ontario.

He has represented high profile human rights advocates including blogger Raif Badawi, who is also imprisoned. His former wife, Ms.  Samar Badawi, a women’s rights defender, was imprisoned from July 2018 to 27 June 2021. LRWC suspects that Ms. Badawi’s arbitrary detention was a tactic to coerce Mr. Abu al-Khair to confess to wrongdoing and agree not to engage in human rights advocacy.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was arrested in April 2014 and charged with a list of illegitimate offences: “striving to overthrow the state and the authority of the King,” “criticizing and insulting the judiciary,” “assembling international organisations against the Kingdom,” “creating and supervising an unlicensed organisation,” “contributing to the establishment of another,” and “preparing and storing information that will affect public security.” Registration of MHSA in Ontario was one of the charges on which Mr Abu al-Khair was convicted. He was sentenced in July 2014. In the absence of Mr. Abu al-Khair and any legal representation, the sentence was confirmed on 12 January 2015 by the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal in Riyadh.

During his detention he has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment, contact with lawyers and family, and denial of necessary food. During the first three years of imprisonment Saudi Arabia authorities offered release and payment in exchange for a confession of wrongdoing and a promise to refrain from human rights advocacy. Saudi authorities responded to Mr. Abu al-Khair’s refusal with harsher treatment and increasingly restricted contact.  There is now no news of Waleed Abu al-Khair or his condition or treatment.

LRWC has been campaigning for Waleed Abu al-Khair’s release in cooperation with several other international human rights organizations. LRWC has sent or participated in a number of communications to the Government of Saudi Arabia asking for his release in January 2015, April 2015, May 2016, June 2016, December 2016 and January 2020. LRWC has never received any response. In April 2015, LRWC led a joint petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD). The WGAD has twice found his detention to be arbitrary, in November 2015 and July 2018. In March 2019, LRWC responded to a request from the WGAD for further information about the situation of Mr. Abu al-Khair.

LRWC monitors continued to follow up the situation of human rights defenders at risk in Saudi Arabia, including Waleed Abu al-Khair.

LRWC successfully nominated Mr. Abu al-Khair for Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario) human rights award in 2016 and the American Bar Association International Human Rights Award in 2019.