15 June 2015 – Washington, D.C. – Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) applauds the letter sent by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia calling on him to pardon and release activist Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair. The Commission notes its concern that the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Mr. Badawi’s sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for peacefully expressing his opinion on the internet. His sentence confirmation follows on the heels of the fifth session of the “Istanbul Process,” convened by the Saudi government to implement UNHRC resolution 16/18 that aims to “promote a culture of tolerance while protecting fundamental human rights, including the freedoms of religion and expression.” The Commission also notes the continued imprisonment of Waleed Abu al-Khair, Mr. Badawi’s lawyer, in Saudi Arabia after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges relating to his defense of human rights.
ADHRB also calls attention to the routine violation of the freedoms of expression and association in Saudi Arabia. The cases of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair are representative of the Kingdom’s broader campaign to criminalize the non-violent expression of dissent as both men are jailed solely for their peaceful criticism of the government. Under the combined weight of vague anti-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws, the Saudi Ministry of Interior and the Specialized Criminal Court have systematically prosecuted political activists, minority religious leaders, and human rights defenders as enemies of the state.
“USCIRF is absolutely right to call attention to the persecution of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “Saudi authorities have targeted these men for nothing other than their peaceful activism and defense of human rights. International civil society must work to support the actions taken by USCIRF, and to secure the release of all political prisoners currently languishing in jails across Saudi Arabia.”
ADHRB echoes the sentiments of the USCIRF’s position and calls on King Salman and the government of Saudi Arabia to:
- Immediately pardon and release Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and all prisoners of conscience;
- Reform articles in the anti-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws which allow for the continued criminalization of peaceful political dissent and nonviolent activism;
- Review and reform the criminal justice system so that it adheres to all international standards of human rights;
- And ensure the protection of the freedoms of speech, expression, and association in both law and practice.