A Saudi Arabian court on Tuesday convicted prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi of smuggling drugs. Despite requests from Saudi prosecutors for the death penalty, el-Gezawi was given a sentence [NPR report] of five years imprisonment and 300 lashes. El-Gezawi's arrest in April 2012 sparked protests [Guardian report] outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo by those who believe the activist was arrested for insulting King Abdullah, leading Saudi Arabia to close its embassy in Egypt for a week. Saudi authorities maintain that he was arrested for attempting to smuggle 20,000 anti-anxiety pills into the country. El-Gezawi had previously filed lawsuits on behalf of 34 Egyptians who were detained in Saudi Arabia without a stated reason. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) [advocacy website] denounced the decision [press release] as a political sentence that violates principles of freedom of expression.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for conducting unfair trials against opposition leaders and human rights activists. Last month Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Saudi Arabia to drop apostasy charges [JURIST report] against a website editor, claiming that his arrest violated his right to freedom of expression. In August a number of human rights groups sent a letter to the Saudi Ministry of Justice requesting that trials against activists be made public [JURIST report]. Last January the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights [official website] issued a report which criticized Saudi Arabia for its increased use of capital punishment [JURIST report] and for using torture in order to obtain confessions.