Call to Action: June 17 Day of action for Saudi Arabia
June 17, 2016 marks a confluence of significant anniversaries for several of PEN’s main cases currently imprisoned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is the day we celebrate the birthday of human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair, currently serving a 15-year sentence. Four years ago one this date, award-winning activist, editor and blogger Raif Badawi was arrested in Jeddah after organizing a conference to mark a “day of liberalism.” In addition, two years ago, on May 30, 2014 Palestinian-born poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to a prison term and lashes in connection with images stored on his phone. Although the court found evidence of apostasy, he was not sentenced in connection with this, as the court found that he had repented. In November 2015, the General Court of Abha sentenced Fayadh to death for the crime of being an “infidel” (kufr) following a re-trial. Although the sentence was subsequently commuted, PEN continues to call for his conviction and eight-year prison sentence to be quashed.
1) Send appeals:
- Calling on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to quash all convictions against human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair, editor and blogger Raif Badawi, and poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh;
- Calling on the authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, as they are held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression;
- Calling on Saudi Arabia to ratify, without reservation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Majesty
Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministry of the Interior
P.O.Box 2933, Airport Road
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Royal Highness
Minister of Justice
His Excellency Dr. Walid bin Mohammad bin Saleh Al-Samaani
Ministry of Justice
Riyadh 11137 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: + 966 1 401 1741 + 966 11 402 0311
Salutation: Your Excellency
It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Saudi Arabia in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here. Please keep us informed of any action you take, including any responses you receive from the authorities.
2) Hold vigils and public readings outside your local embassy (see here).
3) Photo campaign: Join English PEN’s photo campaign in support of Raif Badawi. English PEN hopes to collect 1,000 images of solidarity with Badawi (see more here).
4) Consider adopting Badawi, Abu al-Khair and Fayadh as Honorary Members of your Center and by doing so provide long-term support and advocacy for him and his family. For details of the PEN International Honorary Membership scheme, read the PEN WiPC Guide to Defending Writers Under Attack (Part V, pgs 15-20). Please let us know if you do so and we will ensure that your Center is networked with others working on the case.
5) PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the situation about freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.
- Organize public events, stage readings, press conferences or demonstrations.
- Share information about Saudi Arabia and your campaigning activities for Badawi, Abu al-Khair and Fayadh via social media.
6) Send messages of support to Ashraf Fayadh via the dedicated website: ashraffayadh.com
Four years ago, award-winning activist, editor and blogger Raif Badawi was arrested in Jeddah on June 17, 2012 after organizing a conference to mark a ‘day of liberalism’.
On July 29, 2013, a court in Jeddah sentenced Badawi to seven years and three months in prison and 600 lashes after he was convicted under the information technology law of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought,” and for insulting Islam. The online forum, Liberal Saudi Network – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was ordered closed by the judge.
On May 7, 2014, Jeddah’s Criminal Court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (approx. $266,631 USD) on charges of “insulting Islam” and “founding a liberal website.” On January 9, 2015, the Saudi authorities administered the first 50 lashes in a public flogging in Jeddah. The flogging reportedly lasted around 15 minutes, during which Badawi’s hands and feet were bound.
The day also marks the 37th birthday of human rights activist and lawyer to Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is currently serving a 15-year sentence on a number of broad and vaguely-worded charges that are believed to stem solely from his peaceful activism, including comments to news outlets and on Twitter criticizing Saudi human rights violations.
On June 7, 2016, Abu al-Khair embarked on hunger strike in protest against ill-treatment he has faced in Jeddah prison. His health is reported to have deteriorated in prison. However, reports indicate that he was not receiving adequate medical care. Abu al-Khair’s access to books and newspapers, as well as other media, had been limited to once per week. According to recent reports, Abu al-Khair ended his hunger strike on June 11 after the prison authorities met with him, granted him access to medical attention and granted him permission to visit the library on a daily basis.
Initially arrested in August 2013, Palestinian-born poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was accused of “misguided and misguiding thoughts” following the submission of a complaint to the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, he was rearrested on January 1, 2014 on charges including “insulting the divine self” and having long hair. He has been held in a prison in the city of Abha ever since.
During his initial trial – held over six hearings between February and May 2014 – Fayadh stood accused of numerous blasphemy-related charges, including “insulting the divine self and the prophet Mohammed,” “spreading atheism,” “refuting the Qur’an and insulting the King and the Kingdom” among other charges. Evidence compiled against him included at least 10 pages from his collection of poetry Instructions Within, published by the Beirut-based Dar al-Farabi in 2008 and later banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia. On May 30, 2014, the General Court of Abha found proof of Fayadh having committed apostasy (ridda) and his repentance for it. The court therefore ruled to lift the penalty for apostasy, however, it sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes – to be administered 50 at a time every 10 days – for storing images on his mobile telephone, and the confiscation of his telephone. On November 27, 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death for the crime of being an “infidel” (kufr) in connection with his poetry following a re-trial. While the sentence has since been commuted to an eight-year prison sentence and 800 lashes, PEN continues to call for his conviction and sentence to be quashed and for his immediate and unconditional release.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s current role as Chair of the UN Human Rights Council’s panel of experts, which selects candidates for appointment to human rights mechanisms, there is effectively no legal protection for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.
There is no Constitution and the 1992 Basic Law does not provide protection for free speech, but instead requires all media and publications to adhere to ‘good speech’ and the laws of the state, and explicitly prohibits them from publishing anything which harms national security or public relations or anything which leads to internal strife.
The legal framework is so broad and vague that those who express dissent, particularly in the digital sphere, can be locked up, often tortured and put behind bars for years after unfair trials where judges have huge discretion over determining what is a crime and what the punishment should be.
Saudi Arabia is not a party to key international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to peaceful freedom of expression, though as a member of the United Nations it is bound by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights as part of customary international law.