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Saudi Arabia detains prominent human rights lawyer

[JURIST] Notable human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair [HRW backgrounder] was was taken into custody in Saudi Arabia Tuesday after a hearing at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Abu al-Khair, founder and chief of the human rights group Saudi Arabia Monitor of Human Rights, faces charges [AP report] that include inciting public opinion. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Wednesday condemned [press release] Abu al-Khair's imprisonment demanding his immediate release. In their press release AI criticized Saudi authorities stating that "Waleed Abu al-Khair's detention is a worrying example of how Saudi Arabian authorities are abusing the justice system to silence peaceful dissent. Nobody should be jailed for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression." According to AI, Abu al-Khair faces charges including breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, offending the judiciary, inciting international organizations against the Kingdom and founding an unlicensed organization. In October Abu al-Khair was sentenced to three months in prison on similar accusations related to "ridiculing or offending" the Saudi Arabian judiciary.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has drawn heavy criticism from rights groups around the globe. In February AI criticized [JURIST report] a recently enacted Saudi Arabian counter-terrorism law that it claims will entrench existing patterns of human rights violations. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ratified the bill [JURIST report] in February, making it law after it had been passed by the Council of Ministers in December. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the king to reject the bill in December, saying that it abridges seven fundamental human rights. In August 2011 the Shura Council proposed amendments [JURIST report] to the bill to bring it in line with international human rights standards. AI cited the failure to follow through on these amendments as evidence of the government's intent to use the law to suppress dissent.

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