Rights group demands Saudi government drop charges against activist
CNN - By Mohammed Jamjoom - 13 / 9 / 2011 - 1:11 pm
Walid Abu al-Khair
Walid Abu al-Khair

Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabian authorities Sunday to immediately drop charges against prominent Saudi human rights activist Walid Abu al-Khair.

The rights group said in a statement that Abu al-Khair had been charged with "offending the judiciary, communicating with foreign agencies, and asking for a constitutional monarchy, " among other offenses.

When reached by phone, Abu al-Khair told CNN he was summoned to court in the Saudi city of Jeddah, but that neither the judge nor the prosecutor showed up for the scheduled hearing on Sunday.

After being read a list of charges against him, "I said I don't agree with the charges - - but I just agree with one charge, " explained Abu al-Khair. "Yes, I called for a constitutional monarchy and I believe in it until now and I encourage people to believe in it. As for all the other charges, I asked them to prove it. "

In its statement, Human Rights Watch called the charges against Abu al-Khair "apparently politically motivated" and said they appear "on their face to violate his fundamental freedoms, protected under international law. "

According to the group's Middle East researcher, Christoph Wilcke, charging Abu al-Khair "with crimes for engaging in peaceful political protest shows Saudi Arabia's disdain for basic rights and freedoms. "

Abu al-Khair, a well-Known Saudi human rights activist, is one of a growing number of voices from within the conservative kingdom calling for political reform. He and numerous other Saudi activists have signed petitions requesting, among other things, the release of political prisoners, formation of an elected parliament, and a separation of the offices of king and prime minister.

Abu al-Khair said that, ultimately, Sunday's events left him confused.

"Maybe they want to just watch and see what the reaction is, " speculated Abu al-Khair, adding, "if a lot of pressure comes, maybe they will drop the case. Because it's not normal to call someone to the court and then not have a sitting. "

"They just made me sign papers that I would come to the next sitting, " said Abu al-Khair, "when that will be, I don't know. "

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where protests are not allowed and dissent is not tolerated. CNN could not reach the country's Interior Ministry or Justice Ministry for comment.

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