Opinion Columns & Blogs

Saudi Arabia continues its repression of rights activists

“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad,” George Orwell wrote in “1984.” “There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

For months now, the Saudi human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair has been clinging to the truth against the odds. Last month, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison (with five years suspended), fined a large sum and barred from leaving the country for another 15 years – all because of social media comments and remarks to the news media about the kingdom’s miserable human rights record.

Abulkhair, a lawyer, is a founder of the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a group that the Saudi authorities have refused to register. For some time, he has been in the cross hairs of Saudi rulers, who brook no dissent nor challenge to their legitimacy. He was put on trial last October on a series of absurd and trumped-up charges, and then, in April, after the fifth session of the trial, he was arrested and thrown into prison under a counterterrorism law.

Since then, according to Abulkhair, he has been tortured and mistreated, put in solitary confinement, deprived of medicine to treat his diabetes and imprisoned on the ground without a blanket. He has been moved five times, most recently to a prison 600 miles from his family. Orwell would certainly recognize him as a man clinging to truth.

The verdict found him guilty of: seeking to remove the legitimacy of the state, harming the public order, inciting public opinion and insulting the judiciary, defaming the judiciary and discrediting Saudi Arabia by alienating international organizations, being head of an unauthorized association and speaking out for it and violating the Saudi cybercrime law. We list these at length so you get the flavor of how the kingdom throws the book at a dissident.

This case is only the latest in a long and sorrowful series of persecutions of those who stand for human rights and dignity in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia remains determined to shut the windows, close the doors and throw dissidents into solitary confinement. This is barbaric treatment of a man who spoke out for truth.