Five Years since Saudi Right Livelihood Award Laureate was Imprisoned
Human Rights, Peace, Democracy and Law, 15/04/2019
Today marks five years since the prominent civil and human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The 39-year old lawyer, who has defended the famous blogger Raif Badawi, is one of the most visionary and influential reformists in the country. He received the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize,’ in 2018.
“Waleed Abu al-Khair has challenged the totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia through peaceful methods, calling for universal human rights. He is demanding the separation of powers and equality for all, including the abolishment of male guardianship which deprives women of their most basic rights. We call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release Abu al-Khair,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Waleed Abu al-Khai was granted the unenviable distinction of being the first human rights activist to be tried under the notorious 2014 “Terrorism-Law”. He was detained without explanation on 15 April 2014 after appearing at the fifth hearing of his trial and has been imprisoned ever since.
On 6 July 2014, Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for charges including disobeying the ruler and seeking to remove his legitimacy, insulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of judges and setting up an unlicensed organisation. During his time in prison, Abu al-Khair has been subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and denial of treatment for his diabetes.
“The structures put in place to counter terrorism have been widely misused to restrain the work of human rights defenders. Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court is a central pillar in the architecture designed to prosecute individuals who call for progressive political reforms in the country,” said Ole von Uexkull.
Abu al-Khair founded the human rights organisation Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia in 2008 and is also known for having defended several prominent Saudi activists in court. His activism in support of a more just society has been varied, involving opening up his own home as a place for people, and youth, in particular, to meet and discuss social, political, and religious topics.
Waleed Abu al-Khair received the Right Livelihood Award in 2018, together with Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, “for their visionary and courageous efforts, guided by universal human rights principles, to reform the totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia”. All three are serving lengthy prison sentences.
On 13 March 2019, during the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation called on Saudi Arabia to unconditionally and promptly implement the endorsed recommendations of the recent Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism which aims to improve the human rights situation in every country around the globe.
About the Right Livelihood Award Foundation
Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation honours and supports courageous people and organisations offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems. The Swedish Foundation sees its role as being the megaphone and shield for the Laureates, and provides them with long-term support. It seeks to help protect those Award recipients whose life and liberty are in danger. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
The Right Livelihood Award is annually presented to four Laureates. Anyone can propose candidates for the Award. After careful investigation by the Foundation’s research team, an international Jury selects the recipients. There are 174 Laureates from 70 countries, to date.
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