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Waleed Abu al-Khair, prominent lawyer and human rights activist, speaks to Human Rights Watch over Skype from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on September 19, 2013. © 2013 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately release Waleed Abu al-Khair, an award-winning Saudi human rights defender and lawyer, 17 human rights groups including Human Rights Watch said today, on the 10th anniversary of his arrest. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence due to his peaceful human rights activism.

“This grim anniversary of Waleed Abu al-Khair’s arrest undermines Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s hollow narrative of reform,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Waleed Abu al-Khair, along with many other of Saudi Arabia’s best and brightest citizens, remains unjustly locked up for nothing more than demanding a rights-respecting future for their country.”

The Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), Saudi Arabia’s terrorism tribunal, convicted Abu al-Khair in July 2014 primarily for his comments to media outlets and tweets criticizing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, especially the country’s harsh sentences against peaceful critics. The court also issued a 15-year travel ban and imposed a fine of 200,000 Saudi riyals (about US$53,000).

Abu al-Khair won the prestigious Human Rights Award from the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2016. He has won numerous other human rights awards as well.

“Abu al-Khair has lost 10 years of his life to the Saudi government’s repression,” Shea said.   “The Saudi authorities should release him immediately.”

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