Saudi rights activist says will fight travel ban

JEDDAH Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:05pm EDT

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JEDDAH (Reuters) - A Saudi Arabian human rights activist and lawyer who has been barred from travel by the authorities said on Wednesday he would appeal against the ban, which has been criticized by Amnesty International.

Waleed Abu al-Khair, who has previously filed cases against the government for jailing an activist without trial and for not allowing women to vote in municipal elections, said he was summoned to the interior ministry on March 21 and told he was banned from travelling because of "security concerns".

"I believe that it is due to my wife's and my activities in human rights issues that they imposed the travel ban on me," Abu al-Khair, 33, told Reuters by telephone. "I don't want favors from the government, just my rights. I will appeal against this travel ban."

An interior ministry spokesman said: "Waleed Abu al-Khair is barred from travelling based on a court order from the bureau of prosecution and public investigation for his involvement in a court case that is in progress and others that are still being investigated."

In a statement on Tuesday, Amnesty International described the ban as arbitrary and in violation of Saudi law, which stipulates that a travel ban can only be issued by judicial ruling, or by the interior minister, for specific security reasons. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy that only holds elections for municipal councils. Public protests are banned and journalists can face penalties for criticism of top officials or crossing other unofficial red lines.

The kingdom has avoided the kind of protests that rocked some Arab countries last year, partly thanks to public handouts from the king and a religious edict that banned public demonstrations in the country.

Ahmad al-Rashid, a Saudi human rights lawyer, said the case was an example of authorities using travel bans as a form of pressure against activists.

"They are pressuring the rights activists with this tool ... Abu al-Khair is well known and this is a kind of harassment in order to stop him from making remarks that are not favorable to the authorities," Rashid said.

The interior ministry spokesman declined to comment on the broader issue of travel bans.

(Reporting By Asma Alsharif; Editing By Angus McDowall and Susan Fenton)

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