A prominent Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer has been sentenced to three months in prison allegedly for offending the kingdom’s judiciary.
Waleed Abu al-Khair was convicted on Tuesday for signing two years ago a pro-reform petition that criticized the heavy-handedness of the Saudi Arabian authorities in dealing with 16 reformists, Amnesty International (AI) said in a report later in the day.
“This trial is a yet another example of how the authorities abuse the justice system to silence peaceful dissent in Saudi Arabia,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, AI’s deputy director for Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“This conviction and prison sentence should be quashed. And the pending charges should be dropped. Amnesty International considers anybody put behind bars merely for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression to be a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” he added.
Abu al-Khair, a defense lawyer in prominent human rights cases, is expected to appeal the conviction.
He was among other activists who first faced trial in late 2011 after signing a statement that called for the right to peaceful assembly, criticized prison sentences given to reformists and called for an end to police shootings of protesters in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province.
The sentencing comes a week after a number of countries strongly criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record at the United Nations when AI censured Saudi Arabia for not addressing the “dire human rights situation” in the kingdom.
There have been numerous demonstrations in the oil-rich Eastern Province since February 2011, with protestors calling for political reform and an end to widespread discrimination.
Anti-government protests have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protestors in Qatif, killing five people and leaving scores more injured.
Regime forces have frequently raided the houses of the anti-regime activists in Qatif to arrest those responsible for organizing demonstrations.
Activists say there are over 40,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, many of them being held without trial or charges.