A prominent Saudi Arabian rights lawyer and activist, Waleed Abu al-Khair, has been detained in solitary confinement for more than a week by government authorities after appearing in a Riyadh court on sedition charges, his wife told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
Samar Badawi said Abu al-Khair went to the Special Criminal Court on April 15 for a hearing related to sedition charges. But he was whisked away to Al-Ha'ir prison before the session concluded, and Badawi said he has been denied access to his lawyers and family.
Badawi said her husband is being subjected to practices “amounting to torture,” according to an emailed statement from Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, an advocacy group that was founded by Abu al-Khair and counts Badawi as a member. She said she visited the prison to obtain information about her husband’s condition.
“Waleed is being exposed to bright lights directly onto his face constantly to deprive him of sleep,” in apparent “retaliation by the authorities against his human rights activities," the statement quoted Badawi as saying. "This is a method used to break his spirit."
The sedition charges include breaking allegiance to King Abdullah, disrespecting authorities, creating an unauthorized association and inciting public opinion.
Apart from those charges, a Jiddah court sentenced Abu al-Khair last October to three months in jail for signing a petition in 2011 against the imprisonment of a group of activists demanding political reforms and the creation of a constitutional monarchy. The petition also called for the right to peaceful assembly, and for an end to police shootings of Shia Muslim protesters in the country’s eastern province of Qatif.
An appeals court in Mecca confirmed the sentence in February, but authorities did not implement it. Consequently, Abu al-Khair had remained free since then.
“Waleed Abu al-Khair’s detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program. “Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said Abu al-Khair’s arrest on April 15 "was by a court order." He referred further questions to the Justice Ministry, where no officials could be reached.
Badawi said Saudi authorities had waited to detain Abu al-Khair until after visiting President Barack Obama left the kingdom at the end of March. She added that the authorities had turned up the pressure on dissidents because of a "major conflict" in the House of Saud.
The question of aging King Abdullah's succession has added to political tensions also fueled by youth unemployment, stagnating economic growth and other problems in the kingdom.
International human rights groups and activists in Saudi Arabia also say the U.S.-allied kingdom has launched a new drive to curb political, religious and social dissent. The government denies there is any crackdown and has regularly dismissed criticism of its human rights record by Western countries and human rights groups.
In March of last year, a Saudi court sentenced two prominent political and human rights activists to at least 10 years in prison for offenses that included sedition and giving inaccurate information to foreign media.
Al Jazeera and Reuters