Imprisoned Saudi human rights defender Waleed Abulkhair – who served as legal counsel to Raif Badawi, another imprisoned Saudi dissident – has launched a hunger strike to protest his recent torture and solitary confinement in Dhahban Prison, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said Irwin Cotler, who acts as international legal counsel to Abulkhair and the Badawi family.
The former justice minister and attorney general of Canada now heads the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
Cotler said he recently learned that Abulkhair is being subjected to “the most cruel and inhumane prison conditions, including repeated beatings and torture in detention, while being denied access to food, required medication, family visits and lawyer visits.”
According to Cotler, Abulkhair was jailed solely based on statements he made against the unjust and harsh sentencing of his fellow citizens, including his former client, Badawi.
“He has been imprisoned for one reason alone – to punish and silence him for his legal representations for the rights of others. His peaceful statements were treated as crimes of terrorism under a newly enacted law and he was convicted despite blatant violations of his rights to a fair trial,” said Cotler.
Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15-year travel ban and a fine of 200,000 Saudi riyals ($70,500) – a sentence that will expire in 2044, Cotler pointed out.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded on two occasions, both during and after his trial, that his detention is arbitrary and that he was targeted for exercising his right to express himself, and called for his immediate release, Cotler said.
“Waleed was already in prison by the time his first child, Joud, was born in June 2014. She is now growing up without the love and support of either of her unjustly detained parents, as her mother, celebrated women’s rights activist Samar Badawi (Raif Badawi’s sister), also languishes in prison and is reportedly subjected to torture,” Cotler said.
“It appears that the Saudi authorities want to silence and suppress the rights of an entire family of human rights heroes.”
Cotler concluded by saying that, “He should be free to accept his various awards for his exemplary human rights work, including the highest honour from the Law Society of Upper Canada, the American Bar Association and English PEN, instead of languishing in solitary confinement.”
Badawi, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, has been in prison since 2013. His wife and three children live in Sherbrooke, Que.