DUBAI (Reuters) - A prominent Saudi rights lawyer and activist, Waleed Abu al-Khair, has been detained incommunicado by authorities after appearing in court in Riyadh on sedition charges, his wife said on Wednesday.
His wife Samar Badawi said Abu al-Khair had gone to the Special Criminal Court on Tuesday for a hearing and she had not been able to communicate with him since then.
She did not know if the trial was over and whether he had been convicted. The sedition charges include breaking allegiance to King Abdullah, disrespecting authorities, creating an unauthorized association and inciting public opinion.
“I went to the court and they told me he had been transferred to al-Ha‘ir prison, they didn’t let me see him,” Badawi told Reuters in Dubai by telephone.
“I went to those in charge at the Interior Ministry and they said I can meet him two weeks from now,” she added.
Abu al-Khair had been representing himself at the hearing.
Apart from the sedition charges, he was sentenced by a Jeddah court last October to three months in jail for signing a petition in 2011 against the imprisonment of a group of activists demanding political reforms.
An appeals court in Mecca confirmed the sentence in February
but authorities did not implement it, so Abu al-Khair had remained a free man since then.
Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said his arrest on Tuesday “was by a court order” and referred further questions to the Justice Ministry, where no officials could immediately be reached.
International human rights groups and activists in Saudi Arabia say the U.S.-allied kingdom has launched a new drive to curb political, religious and social dissent. The government denies there is any crackdown.
Abu al-Khair is founder and director of an organization named the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
“His demands were not political, but Waleed has always been having human rights demands, now the time has come to pay the price for these demands,” Badawi said.
In a separate case, the court sentenced an unidentified activist to six years in jail on charges including taking part in illegal demonstrations and organizing women’s protests, the state news agency reported.
The Special Criminal Court in Riyadh also banned him from traveling abroad for six years after he completes his sentence.
The court also sentenced another unidentified activist to three years in jail for spreading lies against King Abdullah and inciting the public against him, SPA said. But it rejected the prosecution’s request to bar him from traveling abroad, saying he has one year left to finish his doctorate.
SPA said the court also convicted three men for trying to leave to fight in foreign wars or of not informing authorities about their intentions, in violation of a recent royal decree banning Saudis from getting involved in foreign conflicts.
One suspect received four years in jail and a second suspect six years for trying to travel abroad to fight. The third man got 18 months for failing to notify authorities about his plans, SPA said.
The world’s top oil exporter has regularly dismissed criticism of its human rights record by Western countries and campaign groups.
In March last year, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced two prominent political and human rights activists to at least 10 years in prison for offences that included sedition and giving inaccurate information to foreign media.
Editing by Sami Aboudi and Tom Heneghan