Saudi human rights activist sentenced to 8 years in prison

AP News
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Posted: May 30, 2016 3:52 PM
Saudi human rights activist sentenced to 8 years in prison

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a member of an independent human rights organization to eight years in prison in the latest guilty verdict to be issued against the group's members, rights group Amnesty International said.

Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, 31, was the only founding member of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known by its Arabic acronym HASEM, not yet sentenced to a prison term. He acted as a legal representative for nine other founding HASEM members.

In total, 11 HASEM members have been sentenced to a combined 92 years in prison. Seven of the 11 are in jail and four are awaiting their prison terms to be implemented.

Amnesty said al-Shubaily was tried Sunday by the Specialized Criminal Court — established to try terrorism cases but increasingly used for trials of political activists whose work is deemed a national security risk. A sweeping anti-terrorism law came into effect in 2014, defining acts as vague as "defaming the state's reputation" as terrorism.

The London-based rights group said al-Shubaily was also barred from traveling abroad for eight years after his release and forbidden from writing on social media. His charges included "communicating with foreign organizations" and providing information to Amnesty for use in its reports. He was additionally charged with inciting people to breach public order and accusing security forces of repression and torture, said Amnesty.

In 2013, prominent founding HASEM activists, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, were sentenced to 10 and 11 years respectively. Soon after, other verdicts against the group followed against nearly a dozen members. In April of this year, Issa al-Hamid, another founding member of HASEM and Abdullah al-Hamid's brother, was sentenced to nine years in prison in what Amnesty International described at the time as part of a wider "ruthless onslaught against civil society" by Saudi authorities.

The group was shut down three years ago, not long after a swell of Arab Spring uprisings demanding political reforms, transparency and social justice swept across much of the region.

A year before they were shut down, HASEM and other reformists signed a petition calling for then-Crown Prince and Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who is the current Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef's father and King Salman's elder brother, to be removed as first-in-line to the throne and to be tried due to the ill-treatment of prisoners by segments of the police.