Waleed abu al-Khair, a well known human rights lawyer and activist, has been sentenced to jail for 15 years for undermining the state as well as insulting the political system.

His charges stem from apparently disobeying an anti-terrorism law which punishes any civil act that “disturbs public order, shakes the security of society, or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state.”

However, this is not the first time al-Khair has faced the threat of jail time. In multiple occasions he has been sentenced to varying amounts of time, never reaching such intensity as the most recent conviction.

His nationally heard liberal voice rings across the nation — a concern to the unsteady Saudi government. In his statement, al-Khair will not appeal the court because he does not see the legitimacy of the claim, and therefore believes it will fall apart when it comes time to book him.

The international reaction to the jailing of such a prominent voice has been negative thus far, with a Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch saying that “Waleed abu al-Khair’s harsh sentence shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those who speak out about human rights and political reform and it will go to any length to silence them.” Saudi Arabia’s reaction simply shows the rest of the closely watching world that freedom of speech is less than valued.

By showing dissent to the Saudi king, al-Khair put himself in the cross-hairs of the government. Al-Khair brought international attention to Saudi Arabia and this action upset the government to the point where they believed he represented them falsely and under a harsh light.

This incarceration demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s fear of the people, and the movement they could start if enough voices show disagreement. Countries that strive for a democratic state allow the citizens to voice concerns, however it appears this is not the case. The oppressive government in this situation shows the deviation from the hope for democracy, forcing other countries to question the stability of Saudi Arabia.

With reason, multiple countries, including the United States, have shown moderate concern for the blatant disregard of human rights in this ongoing debacle with al-Khair.

According to Reuters UK, “in the past year, Saudi authorities have been criticized by international rights groups for jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organization to damaging the reputation of the country.” Should this disrespect of the people continue, it’s likely Saudi Arabia will have little time and warning before activists stop getting trampled by the government and stand together and force the government to listen. The necessity for the government to acknowledge and consider the points being made by activists and lawyers like al-Khair is vital to the growth of the country as well as the progressive nature clearly being yearned for by many of its citizens.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, CNN, Al Jazeera
Photo: Dhaka Tribune