(New York) - Human Rights Watch today honored Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim, a Saudi human rights lawyer, with the 2008 Human Rights Defenders Award in London.
Al-Lahim is prevented from traveling abroad by the Saudi authorities, and was unable to receive the award in person. He prepared a speech representing his personal views that was read to assembled guests on his behalf.
"Al-Lahim fights for the rights of his fellow citizens against arbitrary and unjust rulings," said Christoph Wilcke, senior researcher on Saudi Arabia at Human Rights Watch. "He is at the forefront of the struggle to put into effect the kind of judicial reforms that King Abdullah has announced."
In March 2004, Saudi authorities arrested al-Lahim, Ali al-Dumaini, Matrook al-Faleh, Abdullah al-Hamid, and eight other activists for having signed and circulated petitions calling for reform. Al-Lahim, who was released without charge, became the lead defense lawyer for the trial against al-Dumaini, al-Hamid, and al-Faleh, which started in August 2004. In November 2004, the authorities rearrested al-Lahim after he stated on Al Jazeera satellite television that he believed his clients to be innocent. A court in May 2005 sentenced al-Dumaini, al-Hamid, and al-Faleh to nine, seven, and six years in prison, respectively. Al-Lahim remained in solitary confinement in al-Ha'ir political prison until King Abdullah pardoned and released all four just days after acceding to the throne in August 2005. The other activists arrested in March 2004 also remain banned from foreign travel.
Al-Lahim quickly returned to human rights legal advocacy, defending two teachers in court against charges of blasphemy introduced by their colleagues and students who disapproved of their modern, unorthodox teaching methods. King Abdullah pardoned both teachers.
Al-Lahim was the first lawyer to bring a criminal case against Saudi Arabia's religious police in a court of law. In 2005, he represented a woman, Umm Faisal, in a case against the religious police for wrongful deprivation of liberty. A court ruled that the religious police are "not to be held accountable."
Religious policemen had stopped Faisal's car, forced her driver out, and drove Faisal and her daughter at high speed through Riyadh before crashing the car, taking away the women's mobile phones, locking them inside the car, and fleeing on foot. Al-Lahim is now representing Faisal in her lawsuit against the religious police for damages in that case in a civil court.
In 2007, al-Lahim also represented the family of Salman al-Huraisi in appealing a court's acquittal of two religious policemen who faced charges of beating al-Huraisi to death in May 2007. The appeal is pending.
Al-Lahim came to prominence in Saudi Arabia and the wider region when he represented the "Girl of Qatif" in her appeal of a sentence to 90 lashes for having in 2006 illegally "mingled" with an unrelated man in a car, before a gang of seven men set upon her and the man and raped them both. After al-Lahim spoke out about the injustice of punishing the victim, the appeals court increased her sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and confiscated his law license.
Al-Lahim stood firmly in support of the woman while senior clerics, judges, and the Ministry of Justice besmirched the young woman's reputation and others called him a "traitor to the country." In December 2007, King Abdullah set aside the sentences of the woman and man.
To read the speech by Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim, delivered today to those gathered in London to honor him with the 2008 Human Rights Defenders Award, please visit: