With the beginning of the month of Ramadan, Waleed Abu al-Khair, the human right activist and the detained lawyer began an open hunger strike because of ill-treatment he is subjected to in Jedda rehabilitation prison. Abu al-Kair sentenced to 15 years in prison for his peaceful criticism of the Saudi government and his advocacy of human rights has spent two years and two months of the sentence issued against him by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) set up to try terrorism cases in July 2014.
Abu al-Khair, the human rights activist, has been subjected from the beginning of his detention to various kinds of torture such as beating, dragging while being chained, depriving him of sleeping and placing him in a solitary confinement (as stated in reports issued by international organizations, the latest was the Human Right Watch report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture). He is still being subjected to ill-treatment reflected by ignoring his request to undergo medical examinations he needs since he suffers from diabetes, stomach ulcer and intestinal complications. The prison administration refuses to give him the special diet and he is also banned from getting any books and newspapers or even some Quran interpretation books.
The Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedom (SAORF) condemns the suffering of the human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair including ill-treatment and torture, pointing out to the ongoing violations practiced by the Saudi authorities of their pledges and international obligations, especially those related to the Convention against Torture and other cruel treatments they have signed in 1997, particularly Article 14 of the Convention which calls for providing immediate medical care for the victims and treating them with equity.
It should be noted that not more than a month ago, the Saudi authorities rejected the reports of the human rights organizations submitted to the UN Committee against Torture during the second periodic report conducted in May 2016 in Geneva, in which the cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in prison, including Waleed Abu al-Khair have been documented. The Committee’s concluding observations have revealed the continuation of the worrying concerns about the extent of the Saudi Arabia’s commitment as a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
Abu al-Khair has been subject to the Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing which was issued in 2009. He was the first to be tried under this law in the specialized criminal court among other human rights activists whose only offense is excising their right to freedom of expression and demanding reforms. Waleed Abu al-Khair refused throughout his trials to recognize the legality of the court or to defend himself. He also refused to sign a copy of the court’s ruling or to appeal the conviction or the sentence. In January, the appeal room in the Specialized Criminal Court upheld Waleed’s sentence in which he would serve the full 15 years in prison, rather than reducing 5 years of the sentence.
The main offences he has been charged with are: seeking to remove the legitimacy of the ruler, abusing the public order in the State and its officials, inciting public opinion, insulting and humiliating the judiciary, harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international human rights organizations, sending statements that harm the kingdom’s reputation and incites against it, establishing unlicensed organization and violating the cyber-crime law.” In this context, the Saudi Organization for Rights and Freedom condemns basically the detention of the lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and his trail since he exercises his human right activism in a peaceful manner. It also reminds of the Arab Charter on Human rights which was ratified by the Saudi Authorities, guaranteeing the right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 32. The only allowed restrictions to be imposed on this right are those imposed by “respecting other’s rights and reputations, or protecting national security, public order, public health, or public morality”. SAORF also reminds that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals recognizes the legitimacy of the rights of the human rights defenders since “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
The organization also calls on the Saudi authorities to stop the prosecution of peaceful activists and calls for the immediate release of Abu al-Khair and the rest imprisoned activists for their peaceful activism in the field of human rights. It also calls for the necessity to respond to his legitimate demands inside the prison as provided by the Convention against Torture, which the Saudi authorities signed in 1997, and are legally binding to its terms and conditions.
SAORF also expresses its deep concern about Abu al-Khair’s health and calls for guaranteeing all necessary measures to ensure his physical and physiological integrity.