Human Rights violations in Saudi Arabia never cease to astound us. The desert kingdom has sentenced yet another human rights activist to 15 years in prison. The sentence carries the added burden of an exorbitant fine. Lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair will also be banned from foreign travel after serving his 15 year long prison sentence. Al-Khair is also the founder of The Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
Such is the deplorable plight of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Only free societies are capable of honest introspection when it comes to human rights abuses within their boundaries. Such abuses have existed in every country and every society, yet only those societies which allow free inquiry and honest debate can eventually take the appropriate steps to overcome injustice.
Al-Khair's charges include "insulting the judiciary" and "attempting to distort the reputation of the kingdom."
Where is the proof though? And what exactly do those charges mean? International human rights agencies can be sure that the standards applied toward reaching a guilty verdict for Al-Khair would be completely arbitrary and prejudiced.
Other Saudi activists have also paid a heavy price for speaking out against human rights abuses. Fadil al-Manasif is another human rights activist banned from travelling abroad for fifteen years. He also faces the hefty fine of 100,000 Riyals for allegedly "breaking allegiance with the ruler" and "being in contact with foreign news agencies to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of Saudi Arabia and its people."
Fowzan al-Harbi, who belongs to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), was also sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year. He is accused of "participating in, calling for, and inciting breaking allegiance with the ruler" and "describing the Saudi regime -- unjustly -- as a police state." He has been promised a six-year reduction in his sentence if he refrains from more activism upon his release.
Who can doubt that the task of these brave souls is daunting? Not only are they fighting an oppressive regime, they are also up against religious bigotry that further strengthens the state machinery. Any one who dares raise a voice against the misogyny, the lack of freedoms, the social taboos, the hostility toward minorities, the political establishment, is effectively silenced with incarceration, financial loss, or fatwas of apostasy.
If Saudi Arabia is concerned about its reputation, it should first revamp its laws, reform its political system, allow for a genuine democratic process to take route, and enable its citizenry to think and act freely.
The international community must also exert pressure on the Saudi regime to loosen its grip on its citizens. Civilized nations of the world have a role to play in human rights abuses abroad. Recently, they were able to prevent a young mother, Meriam Ibrahim from being executed in Sudan for apostasy and adultery. It was international pressure that helped obtain her freedom.
There is no room for complacency in such matters. I implore the international community to help Saudi human rights activists achieve their goals of bringing about a more humane and just society in Saudi Arabia.
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