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The UN finds the detention of Waleed Abu Al-Khair and eight other human rights defenders arbitrary; and call for their immediate and unconditional release and for reparations

(Paris, Geneva) - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH and OMCT programme), welcome the opinion rendered by the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which considers the detention of human rights defender Waleed Abu Al-Khair and eight other human rights defenders, as arbitrary, and requests their immediate release.

In an opinion adopted during a session held in September 2015, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) requested the release of Waleed Abu al-Khair as well as eight other human rights defenders, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khodr, Raif Badawi, Mohammad Al-Bajadi, Fadel Al-Manasef, Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi, Omar al-Sa’id, from arbitrary detention.

In April 2015, the Observatory and six other organisations referred the case of Waleed Abu al-Khair to the UN WGAD [1]. Mr. Waleed Abu al-Khair is a human rights lawyer, Founder and Director of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA). He also acted as lawyer of the prominent human rights defender Raif Badawi, who is among the other eight human rights defenders whose detention was found arbitrary by the UN WGAD.

He was arrested on April 15, 2014 while appearing at the fifth session of his trial before the Specialized Criminal Court, which deals with terrorism cases, in Riyadh. On February 15, 2015, the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal in Riyadh confirmed a 15 years prison sentence, a travel ban of equal duration following imprisonment, and a fine of SR 200,000 (approximately EUR 46,957). Charges against him were “striving to overthrow the state and the authority of the King”, “criticising and insulting the judiciary”, “assembling international organisations against the Kingdom”, “creating and supervising an unlicensed organisation”, and “contributing to the establishment of another” and “preparing and storing information that will affect public security”.

In its decision, the UN Working Group highlighted that the detention of Mr. Waleed Abu Al-Khair “forms a part of both continued and recent persecution and crackdown on human rights activists in Saudi Arabia”. The UN WGAD further stated that most of the offences that Mr. Abu Al-Khair has been convicted of are “too broad and imprecise, therefore allowing for interpretations that undermine fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly”.

The UN WGAD concluded that “the deprivation of liberty of Waleed Abu Al-Khair [and the eight other human rights defenders] is arbitrary, being in contravention of Articles 9, 10 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and […] of Articles 9, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. Accordingly, the UN WGAD requested “the Government of Saudi Arabia to release Waleed Abu Al-Khair and the other eight human rights defenders forthwith and bring their situation in conformity with the requirements of international human rights instruments”, and to provide them “with appropriate reparation”.

“Waleed Abu Al-Khair is one more victim of the Saudi repressive authorities that are consistently abusing the country’s vague laws to deprive human rights defenders and other citizens of their liberty. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia must uphold and respect the highest standards of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT).

While the Saudi Basic Law of Governance governs the operation of charities, a number of civil society groups, including those engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are unable to obtain legal status under the narrow definition of charity. Although there are no specific rules or regulations that address the receipt of funds from abroad, in practice Saudi NGOs are prevented from receiving any foreign funding. On another note, the recently implemented counter-terror law and decrees have extended legal cover for human rights violations and abuses of power, allowing the authorities the intimidate and lock up human rights defenders that dare to speak up against the state depicting them as “terrorists”.

The Observatory calls upon the Saudi authorities to implement the UN WGAD decision, to immediately and unconditionally release Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khodr, Raif Badawi, Mohammad Al-Bajadi, Fadel Al-Manasef, Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi and Omar al-Sa’id, and to drop all charges against them.

[1] See the Observatory Joint Press Release of April 15, 2015.

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