Waleed Sami Abulkhair, Activist
Waleed Sami Abulkhair is a Saudi lawyer and activist currently imprisoned for his work exposing human rights violations by the Saudi government. Born in 1979, he was heavily influenced by the Jeddah reformers and their calls to establish a constitutional monarchy, which led him to found the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) in 2009.
The MHRSA worked to represent political detainees, filed suits against the Ministry of the Interior for human rights violations, and circulated petitions calling for civil reforms. As a result of this work, Abulkhair received a three-month sentence from the General (Sharia) Court in 2013, followed by a 15-year sentence from the Specialized Criminal Court in 2014. Abulkhair attempted a hunger strike in 2019, but was hospitalized.
He is still in jail.
DAWN researchers interviewed sources close to the detainee, as well as obtained court documents and other information from published sources that we consider to be reliable, as indicated below. Interviews include the following:
Source A: Interview on June 27, 2020. This is a source close to Abulkhair who contributed to the reform initiatives in which Abulkhair participated and joined other public events with the detainee. This source also shared legal documents pertinent to Abulkhair and his trials.
Source B: Interview on August 12, 2020. This source is a prominent activist who has spoken to Abulkhair throughout the latter's trial and detention and has a power of attorney to represent Abulkhair. This source shared legal documents and court memos related to Abulkhair and his case.
We share only some of the documents related to this case. We have not shared certain documents to protect identities and information that may harm others.
We do not disclose the identity of these sources to protect their security. We reference them below as "Source A" and "Source B."
Born Waleed Sami Mohammed Said Mirdad Abulkhair in 1979 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Abulkhair has one child, Joud, with his ex-wife, Samar Badawi. Abulkhair obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Arabic from King Abdulaziz University in 2003 and a Master's Degree in Islamic Jurisprudence from Yarmouk University in 2009.
Historically based in Mecca, the Abulkhair family has a long history of working in academia and jurisprudence. The region produced earlier notable Abulkhairs, including the revered scholar Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Mardad Abulkhair and Muhammad Saeed Abulkhair, grandfather of Waleed and one of the Hajiz representatives who signed a pact with King Abdul Aziz stipulating the region's relatively independent administration in 1925. DAWN obtained a copy of the pact from the family of Abulkhair, which we believe is made public here for the first time.
In keeping with the family's tradition, Waleed Abulkhair's father worked as a teacher.
While studying for his bachelor's degree, Abulkhair joined learning circles in the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina to study and memorize the Qur'an. He earned a certificate from the famous Sheikh and reciter Ubayd Allah al-Afghani.
While studying for his law degree, Waleed became interested in political reform and human rights, prompting him to write articles on these subjects for al-Youm newspaper, "ar-Risalah" Appendix in the al-Madina newspaper, and the al-Ahrar Network website.
In 2009, after completing his master's degree, Abulkhair returned to Jeddah to teach the Holy Quran in Dar Al-Fikr schools there. According to Abulkhair, as reported by Source A, he submitted his resignation after attempts by the General Investigation Directorate (al-Mabahith al-'Aammah) to pressure the principal of the school to dismiss Abulkhair from his job.
After Abulkhair resigned, he applied for work as a lawyer at firms in Jeddah, even though he lacked an official law license from the government. According to Source A, most rejected Abulkhair, for fear he would rouse government suspicion, until Issam Basrawi, a lawyer and member of the Jeddah reformer's group, took him on as a trainee. In 2010, Abulkhair received a scholarship to learn English from SABB Bank (Saudi British Bank) and studied in the United Kingdom for a full academic year. During this time, he would return to Saudi Arabia to represent Samar Badawi, a human rights defender, in court before returning back to the United Kingdom after the hearings.
After the end of the 2010 academic year, Abulkhair returned to Saudi Arabia to continue working as a trainee lawyer for Issam Basrawi. A year later, he requested an official law license from the Ministry of Justice, but the Ministry rejected his request without explanation or due process. Source A said that Abulkhair told him that a Ministry of Justice official said that his legal and political engagements were the main reason they refused him a license.
Advocacy for Constitutional Monarchy, 2007:
2007 saw the beginning of Abulkhair's reform work with Abdullah al-Hamid. Al-Hamid is a prominent reformer in Saudi Arabia known for his involvement with the constitutionalists, a group who called for the installment of a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia.
According to Source A, Abulkhair told him that he visited al-Hamid and asked him to endorse a new wave of demands to move the country towards a constitutional monarchy. Their efforts produced a petition titled "Milestones on the Road to Constitutional Monarchy." Abulkhair drafted the first version and mobilized fellow reformers while al-Hamid solicited endorsements from other prominent reformers, according to Source A. The petition demanded basic liberties, the rule of law, an equitable distribution of wealth, the reorganization of the Ministry of the Interior, and a transition toward democratic representation and free elections.
The Team to Defend Prisoners, September 2008:
Abulkhair founded a number of human rights groups that defend prisoners of conscience and political prisoners. Among these groups, he started the Team to Defend the Detainees of Jeddah, as well as the Team to Defend Prisoners, a larger team to defend "advocates of justice, Shura and human rights." (Shura is an Arabic word literally translated into English as "consultation". It is a political Islamic reference to the principle of consultation that requires some form of political participation).
The Team to Defend Prisoners documented legal violations in criminal procedure and demanded that the Ministry of the Interior adhere to human rights standards and the Criminal Procedure Law by immediately releasing certain reformist detainees.
Solidarity with Gaza, December 2008:
Abulkhair and other Saudi reformers wrote a report calling for a mass peaceful protest in Riyadh in solidarity with civilians in Gaza. Abulkhair addressed a portion of this report to the Ministry of the Interior, asking the Ministry to issue permits for the demonstration. The Ministry of the Interior rejected his requests after a meeting held in the Office of the Assistant Undersecretary of the Interior for Security Affairs, according to Source A.
Dissatisfied, Abulkhair and a number of Saudi intellectuals from various backgrounds issued a statement of solidarity with Gaza on December 31, 2008.
Petition: Trials are Unfair and Invalid for Twenty-Five Reasons, May 13, 2009:
A source who spoke to DAWN said that Abulkhair participated in shaping a petition detailing secret trials pursued by the state.
Jeddah Flood Disaster and the "Letter for Justice," November 25, 2009:
On Wednesday, November 25, 2009, the city of Jeddah suffered a massive flood that killed more than 150 people and destroyed a number of neighborhoods in east Jeddah.
In response, Abulkhair issued a statement to activists and public figures. Source A provided DAWN with a copy. Titled "A Letter for Justice" and addressed to King Abdullah, it calls for a legitimate investigation into the flood's cause and for the state to hold officials responsible for mismanagement of the flooding accountable.
Abulkhair also helped launch other relief campaigns in Jeddah.
Representation of Samar Badawi, October 20, 2010:
In 2009, Abulkhair took up the prominent case of Jeddah native Samar Badawi after she challenged her father's legal guardianship in a historic litigation. Badawi accused her father of abuse and said that he prevented her from choosing who to marry, under laws that require a woman to obtain her father's consent to marry. After winning her case, she married Abulkhair in the same year, 2010. The couple divorced in 2016.
Political Activism in Conflict with the Government
According to Abulkhair, as reported by Source A:
- In 2008, while Abulkhair was working on his master's degree in Jordan, the Jordanian state's security services summoned him for interrogation concerning his political and legal activities in Saudi Arabia. The authorities forced Abulkhair to sign a pledge, under the threat of deportation, promising to refrain from any human rights activism while in Jordan.
- In 2009, Abulkhair resigned from his position in Dar Al-Fikr schools in Jeddah after the General Investigation Directorate attempted to pressure the principal of the school to dismiss Abulkhair.
- In 2010, Abulkhair said that editors of multiple local newspapers informed him that the government had banned him from writing for their papers.
Representation of Political Activists Unjustly Persecuted by the Government
- From 2009 to 2014, Abulkhair represented numerous political activists and reformers whom the Saudi government had prosecuted. He sued the government on multiple occasions against detentions that did not even comply with Saudi procedural law, including Abdulrahman al-Shumeeri, one of the Jeddah reformers.
- On numerous occasions, Abulkhair went on hunger strikes to protest unlawful practices against his clients.
In retaliation of his legal representation in these cases, the governments threatened him on numerous occasions and ultimately prosecuted him.
The Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia:
According to Source A, who helped Abulkhair to start the organization, Abulkhair founded MHRSA to document human rights violations and fight state abuses in Saudi Arabia. After its launch in 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs neglected and finally rejected Abulkhair's application to incorporate the organization, according to Source A. Abulkhair then contacted the Royal Court for permission to establish the association, but they also rejected his request, according to Source A. Nevertheless, Abulkhair established MHRSA and announced its inauguration on a Facebook page.
Source A also reported that, on May 6, 2009, Abulkhair issued a statement that he received a call from someone who claimed to be from the General Investigation Directorate requesting that he shut down MHRSA. MHRSA responded by issuing a press release, stating that "a person who claimed to be a security detective contacted Waleed Sami Abulkhair, asking him to close down MHRSA." According to the press release, the detective who declined to give his name used threatening language and suggested the possibility of trial and imprisonment.
According to Source A, Abulkhair told him that he replied that he did not have the power to shut down the organization because others in the organization intended to keep running it.
According to the press release, one day after this call the Communications and Information Technology Commission, headed by Abulrahman bin Ahmed Aljaafari, blocked the MHRSA website in Saudi Arabia.
Time and Circumstances of Arrest
Following his convictions in two separate trials, unnamed individuals from the General Investigation Directorate arrested Abulkhair on April 15, 2014 and took him to al-Haer Prison in Riyadh. According to Source A who spoke to Abulkhair's family, the Directorate of Investigation ordered his transfer from al-Haer Prison to al-Malazz Prison in Riyadh on August 11, 2014.
Public Prosecutor Mohammed bin Ibraheem al-Subait's October 6, 2013 charge sheet, published here for the first time, submitted at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, accused Abulkhair of terrorism. It cited general and vague Islamic texts and Article 12 from the Basic Law of Governance that emphasize the importance of unity:
- Breaking allegiance to the state.
- Insulting public order and the state.
- Organizing illegal gatherings.
- Swaying public opinion.
- Insulting the judiciary.
- Seeking to overthrow the state and the authority of the king.
- Signing statements and petitions that harm the reputation of the Kingdom and incite against it.
- Mobilizing international organizations against the kingdom.
- Establishing an unlicensed organization and supervising it, and contributing to the creation of another organization.
- Processing and storing of information that affects public security.
Trial and Legal Proceedings
October 6, 2013:
At the first session of Abulkhair's trial, Prosecutor Mohammed bin Ibraheem al-Subait presented the government's charges at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. The Specialized Criminal Court is mandated to hear terrorism and security cases.
Judge Muhammed al-Musallam first presided over the court before Judge Yousef bin Ghormallah al-Ghamdi took over.
November 4, 2013:
At the second session of this trial, Abulkhair appeared at court to defend himself, arguing that the charges were solely based on his lawful political activism.
January 8, 2014:
During the third session of the trial, Abulkhair continued his defense.
February 3, 2014:
At the fourth session of the trial, Judge al-Musallam asked Abulkhair to request a change of judicial office so another judge could preside over the case. According to experts DAWN consulted, in politically sensitive cases, Saudi judges sometimes ask for the assignment of a new job to avoid their own involvement. Judge Musallam's request suggests he did not support the charges against Abulkhair. Abulkhair agreed and asked for a new judge.
April 15, 2014:
At this trial's fifth session, the new judge, Judge Yusef bin Ghormallah al-Ghamdi of the Specialized Criminal Court, issued a decision to sentence Abulkhair to 15 years in al-Haer Prison but did not inform his family or his lawyer at the session, Ibrahim Almodaimigh.
Judge al-Ghamdi offered an alternative sentence that reduced the 15-year sentence to 10 years on the condition that Abulkhair stop his political activities. Abulkhair did not accept. In addition, Judge al-Ghamdi sentenced Abulkhair to a 15-year travel ban set to begin after his release, as well as a fine of 200,000 Saudi riyals (approximately $53,000).
The judge ordered Abulkhair's immediate arrest at this session. Security forces took him to al-Haer Prison in Riyadh.
Abulkhair appealed the decision of the court to the Specialized Court of Appeal. On January 12, 2015, the Court of Appeal requested that Abulkhair receive a harsher sentence because "he did not show remorse." The Judge subsequently issued a fully enforceable 15-year sentence.
Having exhausted his appeals, Abulkhair commenced his sentence retroactively to his arrest on April 15, 2014.
According to Source A, unnamed individuals from the General Investigation Directorate arrested Abulkhair on April 15, 2014 and took him to al-Haer Prison in Riyadh. On August 11, 2014, they ordered his transfer from al-Haer Prison to al-Malazz Prison in Riyadh.
According to Source B, Abulkhair reported that the guards beat and knocked him to the ground during the transfer. His family reported that he has since suffered from back pain. No one informed Abulkhair's lawyer, Ibrahim Almodaimigh, why the prison authorities transferred Abulkhair from al-Haer to Al-Malazz.
In February 2015, the General Investigation Directorate transferred Abulkhair to Briman Prison and then Dhahban Prison in Jeddah, where he is currently serving his sentence.
According to Source A and B, on November 29, 2019, Abulkhair began an open-ended hunger strike to protest his maltreatment in prison. The sources added that Abulkhair reported that in the days leading up to the hunger strike, the guards confiscated his books and blankets, raided his cell at night for inspection, and left him outside the cell during the day for long periods in the sun. The identity of the guards is unknown. The warden responsible for this prison is Brigadier-General Adel al-Subhi.
On November 26, 2019, unidentified guards of the prison administration of Dhahban Prison, Jeddah transferred Abulkhair to a heightened security division in Dhahban, Jeddah without providing any justification for the transfer, according to Abulkhair as he told Sources A and B.
After nearly two weeks, Abulkhair suspended his hunger strike when prison authorities returned him to his regular cell. After prison guards again retransferred him to the high security prison, he resumed a hunger strike on December 11, 2019. On February 6th, 2020, Abulkhair ended his hunger strike once prison guards returned him to his regular cell.
Impact on Family
Samar Badawi, ex-wife.
On January 12, 2016, Jeddah police arrested Badawi and took her with her 2-year-old daughter with Abulkhair, Joud, to a police station and later to Dhahban Prison. One day later they released her on bail.
On July 30, 2018, State Security forces arrested her along with other prominent women human right defenders for her activism. She remains detained.
Source A said that on October 2, 2013, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Interior Ministry arrested Abulkhair from his house in Jeddah and brought him to the al-Sharafiya Neighborhood Police Station in Jeddah. Abulkhair told Source A that the police said that they had arrested him on the orders of the administrative governor of Makkah al-Mukarramah region, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, and on the grounds that Abulkhair hosted "an unlicensed forum in his home attended by so-called reformists and activists." According to the Gulf Center, the arrest referred to a weekly forum Abulkhair hosted in his house called "Smood" (steadfastness).
Source A said that unnamed policemen referred the case on October 2, 2013 to the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution, where unidentified officials interrogated Abulkhair and then released him on bail after he refused to sign a pledge to stop holding his house forums.
This arrest did not result in any legal proceeding or trial.
2011 – 2014 Prosecution:
According to Source A and Abulkhair's tweets, the General Criminal Court charged Abulkhair in 2011 with the following, but did not specify any violation of any specific law:
- Contempt of the judiciary.
- Communicating with foreign bodies.
- Demanding constitutional monarchy.
- Participating in [media] programs with the aim of discrediting the country.
- [Verbally] inciting public opinion against the public order of the country.
- Misleading the judicial authority.
- Misleading the investigative authority.
The first hearing began on September 11, 2011 at the General Criminal Court in Jeddah. Judge Abdul-Majeed Al-Shuwaihi presided, and the trial lasted until late February 2014.
Under Saudi Arabia's prior criminal procedure code, trial sessions were far apart. According to Abulkhair, the second session took place on June 5, 2012, and the third session on March 13, 2013, where he presented his defense, denying any criminal action in his criticism of the judiciary.
On October 29, 2013, Judge Al-Shuwaihi sentenced him to three months in prison.
On February 24, 2014, the Jeddah Court of Appeal confirmed the verdict, but authorities did not enforce the decision. They did not arrest or summon Abulkhair to carry out the sentence, rather leaving the enforcement pending.
2012 Travel Ban:
According to Sources A and B, Abulkhair stated that unnamed officials from the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Jeddah had summoned him on March 21, 2012 to inform him that they were prohibiting him from travel for security reasons. On March 28, 2012, Mansour Alturki, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, headed then by Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, formally added Abulkhair's name to the list of people banned from travel.
According to Source A, Abulkhair said that he never received an official memorandum explaining the ban. Abulkhair's ban came days before he was meant to attend a six-week democracy fellowship at Syracuse University in New York. The Ministry never lifted the ban.
Violation of Rights
The Right to Freedom of Expression, Association, and Participation in Public Affairs
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ('Universal Declaration') and Article 19(1) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) grants each individual the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The right precludes the State from harassing or intimidating a person by virtue of the opinions they hold, and from attempting to coerce the holding or not holding of any opinion (see, General Comment No. 34, paras. 9-10). There can never be any justification for the restriction of freedom of speech rights where the speech in question advocates for democratic tenets and human rights (see, Communication No. 458/1991, Mukong v Cameroon, para. 9.7).
Saudi Arabia breached Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association, by arresting Abulkhair for hosting a forum at his home. During his arrest, the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution attempted to make Abulkhair sign a pledge stating that he would cease organization of the forum.
The state eventually imprisoned Abulkhair for his human rights advocacy, which constitutes a severe violation of Article 19. The Human Rights Committee has noted its concern surrounding laws intended to punish people for disrespecting authority and criticizing public officials (see, General Comment No. 34, para. 38).
[Article 18-20, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); Article 19, 22, 25, International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)]
Freedom from Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ('Working Group') hears claims from individuals who have been deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or inconsistently with international human rights law. On July 4, 2018, it found that Saudi Arabia had unlawfully detained Abulkhair, thus breaching Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see, Opinion No.10/2018).
If a detention case falls into one or more of the following categories established by the Working Group, the detention qualifies as arbitrary within the meaning of Article 9:
- When it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty.
- When the deprivation of liberty results from the deprivation of the exercise of the rights and freedoms granted by certain other rights in the Declaration or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to freedom of speech.
- When the right to fair trial has been so gravely breached that it gives the deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character.
- When asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees are subjected to prolonged administrative custody without the possibility of administrative or judicial review or remedy.
- When the deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination, including discrimination as to political opinion, that aims towards or can result in the ignoring of equality of human beings.
The Working Group found that Saudi Arabia's treatment of Abulkhair constituted arbitrary detention under Categories I, II, III and V.
Abulkhair's arrest and detention on April 15, 2014 had no legal basis. First, the law used to punish him, the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, came into effect months after the commencement of his trial, and thus breaches the essential principle of legality found in Article 11(2) of the Universal Declaration: no one shall be held guilty on account of any act which did not constitute an offence at the time it was committed. Article 15 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights also prohibits this practice.
Second, the Minister of the Interior and the Directorate of General Investigation did not present a warrant at the time of Abulkhair's arrest. Even if they had issued a warrant, the Working Group has held that the Minister of the Interior and the Directorate of General Investigation are not independent and impartial judicial authorities, and thus are not competent to issue a warrant compliant with the due process requirements of human rights law (see, Opinion No.93/2017, para. 44). Further, no one informed him of the reasons for his arrest or the charges against him until May 28, 2014, which renders his deprivation of liberty unlawful (see A/HRC/30/37, para. 12). Such conduct also infringes on Principles 2 and 10 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention and Imprisonment ('Body of Principles').
Third, the charges against him were vague. This violates the due process of law per Article 11(2) of the Universal Declaration. Article 1(a) of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing defines the crime of terrorism as including acts which "disturb public order" and "endanger national unity." This does not qualify as a sufficiently certain law on which lawful detention may be based.
In sum, Abulkhair's deprivation of liberty is arbitrary because it lacks legal basis under the definition of Category I (see, Opinion No. 10/2018, paras. 50-56).
The Right to a Fair Trial
The procedure used by Saudi Arabia in oppressing and ultimately imprisoning Abulkhair contained a number of damning defects, resulting in the violation of his right to a fair trial.
In Abulkhair's case, the Saudi Arabian authorities conducted themselves in a callously arbitrary manner. The Ministry of the Interior banned Abulkhair from travelling in 2012 without providing him an official memorandum or indicating the reasons for his ban.They prohibited him from travelling without affording him the opportunity to challenge the measure. The first proceedings against him, beginning in 2009, lasted for more than 18 months, which breaches the requirements of expeditiousness under the right to fair trial (see, Communication No. 203/1986, Hermoza v Peru, para. 11.3).
Between April 15 and July 6, 2014, authorities subjected Abulkhair to incommunicado detention, which prevented him from communicating with his family and lawyers. This action prejudiced his right to a fair and public hearing (see Opinion 10/2018, para. 74). During the 2014 trial, authorities did not let Abulkhair see the evidence they presented against him, including testimonies asserting that he had behaved immorally while working on Samar Badawi's case and had distributed court documents. This stands in clear violation of the right, under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration, to see the evidence used in one's prosecution (see General Comment 32, para. 33).
In regards to the 2014 proceedings, Abulkhair had already been convicted and sentenced on charges based on the same facts at his first trial. This breaches the principle ne bis in idem, which holds that an individual cannot be tried for the same offence twice (see, Opinion No. 36/1999, paras. 8–10). This principle is foundational to the rule of law, and its breach leads inexorably to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia has breached Article 10 of the Universal Declaration.
The Committee against Torture has found the court that tried Abulkhair to be insufficiently independent from the Ministry of the Interior (see, (CAT/C/SAU/CO/2)), thus failing to satisfy the conditions of Article 10.
Finally, for the reasons outlined below, interrogators subjected Abulkhair to torture to force his confession. As the Working Group outlined in its judgment, "no fair trial is possible under such an atmosphere of fear" (see Opinion 10/2018, para. 76). This, combined with the full breadth of defects in Abulkhair's imprisonment, demonstrates that Saudi Arabia violated his right to a fair trial.
[Article 10, UDHR; Article 13, 14, 16 Arab Charter on Human Rights; Article 14, ICCPR]
The Right to Humane Treatment and the Prohibition of Torture
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration absolutely prohibits the use of torture. Saudi Arabia is party to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which sets out in greater detail the positive and negative obligations incumbent on states.
During his detention, prison authorities forced Abulkhair to undergo sleep deprivation by using constant bright lights and refusing to give him his diabetes medication. The authorities used threats and coercion, including beatings that amount to torture, to force him to make a confession. The Saudi Government has not denied these allegations (see Opinion 10/2018, para. 76). On March 8, 2016, a prison officer physically assaulted Abulkhair for coming to the aid of a fellow inmate.
Authorities also detained Abulkhair in solitary confinement for an extended period of time. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has acknowledged this as potentially amounting to cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, due to the psychological harm it inflicts (see A/63/175, paras. 56 and 77). Prolonged incommunicado detention, which he suffered between April 15, 2014 and July 6, 2014, may also rise to the level of torture, as described in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture (see A/56/156, para. 14).
[Article 5, UDHR; Article 7, ICCPR; Article 2, 10 (1, 2), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)]
Abulkhair's treatment manifestly contravenes international human rights law. The Saudi government egregiously violated his rights to free expression, a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary detention, and freedom from torture. The Working Group has called for his immediate release and substantial compensation for the grave crimes he has suffered.
Officials Involved in Prosecution and Detention
Prince Khaled bin Faisal al-Saud, Governor of Mecca Region
Born 1940, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has held many government positions, including as long-time governor of Asir region (1971-2007) and an advisor to King Salman.
Abulkhair told Source A that the forces that arrested him told him that Prince Al-Faisal, as the administrative governor of the Mecca region, ordered Abulkhair's arrest on the grounds that Abulkhair hosted "an unlicensed forum in his home attended by so-called reformists and activists." According to the Gulf Center, the arrest referred to a weekly forum Abulkhair hosted in his house called "Smood" (steadfastness). The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh ruled that the forum and Abulkhair's activities threatened the security and stability of the country.
Prince Al-Faisal's order to arrest Abulkhair violated Abulkhair's right to freedom of association and speech protected by international law. Article 26 of the Basic Law of Governance provides that the "State shall protect human rights within the Sharia."
Judge Yousef bin Ghormallah al-Ghamdi
Judge Yusef bin Ghormallah al-Ghamdi is currently an Imam at al-Rahman Mosques in Jeddah. He previously served as a judge in the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. He received his PhD in Comparative Jurisprudence in March 2019 from the Higher Judicial Institute at Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.
On April 15, 2014, Judge al-Ghamdi sentenced Abulkhair to 15 years in al-Haer Prison for his peaceful political activism. He also failed to inform Abulkhair's family or lawyer of his decision. In addition, he sentenced Abulkhair to a 15-year travel ban set to begin after his release, as well as a fine of 200,000 Saudi riyals (approximately $53,000). This sentence violated Abulkhair's basic rights and freedoms protected by Article 26 the Basic Law of Governance and international law.
Prosecutor Mohammed bin Ibraheem al-Subait
[PHOTO NOT AVAILABLE. IF YOU HAVE PHOTOS AVAILABLE, PLEASE EMAIL SAUDI@DAWNMENA.ORG]:
Prosecutor al-Subait is the General Prosecutor in the State Security Division at the Public Prosecution Office.
He was promoted in June 2010 from Investigator to Prosecutor.
On October 6, 2013, Prosecutor al-Subait charged Abulkhair at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh for actions that constitute protected speech and association under local and international law.
Local Saudi Coverage
On October 29, 2013, Sabq newspaper reported the following regarding Abulkhair's first prosecution:
The verdict is a three-month prison sentence against human rights activist lawyer Waleed Abulkhair on charges including signing a statement of Jeddah reformists and a statement of the Qatif events, a statement Abulkhair, along with other activists, issued condemning the discrimination and persecution against the religious minority in Qatif, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Press Agency reported: "The Specialized Criminal Court convicted a defendant seeking to legitimize the Islamic allegiance [of the state] and insult the state system."
Hussain al-Gawi, a Saudi reporter for Al Arabiya, said on his Youtube show that Abulkhair smeared the Saudi government and attempted to tarnish the reputation of the Saudi state through human rights activities and his organization, the MHRSA. Al-Gawi said Abulkhair called for regime change and instigated chaos in the region during the Arab Spring alongside activists from the Arab world. He claimed such activities justified Abulkhair's arrest and prosecution.
The United Nations' Working Group issued a decision on Abulkhair's case on July 4, 2018, concluding that the deprivation of Abulkhair's liberty is arbitrary.
A former top United Nations official, Navi Pillay, commented on the conviction of Waleed Abulkhair, expressing her concern about the arbitrary arrest and trial of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, like Abulkhair
In March 2015, over 60 members of the US Congress signed a letter encouraging the new Saudi king to demonstrate a commitment to reform by releasing Abulkhair as well as another prisoner of conscience.
Nine US Senators demanded the release of Abulkhair in March 2019.
Amnesty International released a statement in April 2014 denouncing Abulkhair's arrest.
In December 2019, Amnesty International released a report on Abulkhair's imprisonment and hunger strike.
In early 2013, Human Rights Watch published a statement decrying the lack of transparency in Abulkhair's case.
Human Rights Watch again published a statement in July 2014, after the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Abulkhair to 15 years in prison for his activism.
On February 20, 2017, Human Rights Watch gave Abulkhair its annual Human Rights Defender award.
On October 9, 2018, PEN awarded Abulkhair the International Writer of Courage award.
In 2018, the Right Livelihood Foundation gave its award to Abulkhair, along with several colleagues, for "their visionary and courageous efforts, guided by universal human rights principles, to reform the totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia."