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(Amman) – The Saudi Arabian authorities should immediately drop apparently politically motivated charges filed against human rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair, Human Rights Watch said today.

The charges brought on September 11, 2011, against Abu al-Khair appear on their face to violate his fundamental freedoms, protected under international law, Human Rights Watch said.  Abu al-Khair told Human Rights Watch that Judge Abd al-Majid al-Shuwaihi of Jeddah’s summary court charged him with “offending the judiciary,” “communicating with foreign agencies,” “asking for a constitutional monarchy,” “participating in media [programs] to distort the reputation of the country,” and “incitement of public opinion against the public order of the country.” The judge refused to hand him a copy of the charge sheet, Abu al-Khair said.

“Charging a human rights lawyer with crimes for engaging in peaceful political protest shows Saudi Arabia’s disdain for basic rights and freedoms,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Abu al-Khair is a well-known Saudi human rights activist who has been the defense lawyer for Abd al-Rahman al-Shumairi, one of the so-called Jeddah reformers, a group of around a dozen men arrested in February 2007 for allegedly gathering funds for terrorism. They are, though, better known for their public stances demanding human rights and political reform in Saudi Arabia. They were held without charge until their trial for, among other charges, “disobeying the ruler” began in 2010. The trial has not yet concluded.

Abu al-Khair in June 2009 sued the Saudi domestic intelligence agency, the Jihaz al-Mabahith al-‘Amma(the mabahith), for the unlawful detention of al-Shumairi, but the court in 2010 ruled it had no jurisdiction over the case because the mabahith had just issued their charges.

In February 2011, Abu al-Khair signed two petitions calling for political reform presented to King Abdullah. The first, “Toward a State of Rights and Institutions,” calls for an elected parliament with full legislative powers, a separation of the offices of king and prime minister, and the release of political prisoners, among other demands. The second, “National Declaration for Reform,” calls for elections to decision-making bodies on the local, provincial, and national levels, as well as a review of the Basic Law to include rights protections, true separation of powers, and the release of political prisoners, among other demands.

Abu al-Khair is also the supervisor of the Facebook group “Saudi Human Rights Monitor,” whose website is blocked in the kingdom. In early July 2009, he and his father received threats from the mabahith to discontinue his human rights activities or face arrest and trial.

No date has been set for the trial. Saudi Arabia has no penal code and prosecutors and judges are free to criminally pursue any act they deem to violate the precepts of Sharia, or Islamic law.

“Saudi Arabia has once again demonstrated its intolerance of any dissenting opinion calling for human rights and political reform of this absolute monarchy,” Wilcke said.

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