Last updated: 16 April, 2014

Saudi court detains human rights lawyer

A Saudi court has ordered the arrest of a prominent rights lawyer who was on trial for insulting the authorities and defying the ultra-conservative kingdom’s ruler, his wife said Wednesday.

Waleed Abulkhair was already on bail for holding unauthorised meetings for reformists when he went to a fifth hearing of his trial at a Riyadh court on Tuesday.

His wife Samar Badawi had not heard from him since he told her he was switching his phone off to enter the closed-hearing courtroom, and was only told on Wednesday that he was in jail, she said.

“I found out today (Wednesday) from the court that the judge has ordered his arrest and he has been sent to Hair prison,” Badawi told AFP by telephone.

Badawi said she went to the prison where she was told that her husband is being held, but was not allowed to see him without 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.

No reason was given for Abulkhair’s latest arrest.

Rights group Amnesty International in a statement called for his immediate release, saying he was being clearly punished “for his work protecting and defending human rights”.

“He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Amnesty’s Said Boumedouha.

He called the lawyer’s detention “a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent.

“Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.”

Abulkhair is on trial for “defying the ruler, insulting authorities, forming two organisations, and incitation,” according to a Tweet he posted before going to court on Tuesday.

He is already facing other trials in cases linked to his activism.

In October, Abulkhair was sentenced to three months in prison for “insulting the judiciary” and a petition he signed two years ago criticising the authorities.

He was briefly held the same month for setting up an “unauthorised” meeting place where pro-reform activists gathered, but was later freed on bail.

In June 2012, he was accused of “disrespecting the judiciary… contacting foreign organisations and signing a petition demanding the release of detainees,” some of whom were being held for suspected terror links, his wife said at the time.

Three months before that, authorities banned him from travelling to the United States where he was due to attend a forum organised by the State Department.

And in February 2011, he signed two other petitions demanding political reform in the kingdom, where political parties are banned.

Abulkhair set up a group on Facebook — Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi — which has nearly 9,000 members.