Waleed Abulkhair

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Waleed Abulkhair
Waleed Abulkhair in November 2012
Waleed Abulkhair in November 2012
Born (1979-06-17) 17 June 1979 (age 35)
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Occupation Lawyer and human rights activist
Years active 2007-present
Spouse(s) Samar Badawi

Waleed Sami Abulkhair (Arabic: وليد أبوالخير‎) is a Saudi Arabian lawyer and human rights activist, and the head of the "Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia" (MHRSA) organization. He was listed by Forbes magazine as one of Top 100 Most Influential Arabs on Twitter. On July 6, 2014, Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Abulkhair was born on 17 June 1979, in the coastal city of Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia. He received his bachelor degree in Arabic language from King Abdul Aziz University in 2003. Abulkhair began his career as a lawyer in 2007, when he joined Essam Basrawi's office for law firm and legal consultations. Then he moved to Jordan where he studied for his master's degree in Islamic Law (jurisprudence and its origins) at Yarmouk University, graduating in 2009, the topic of his thesis being Connection and Disconnection In Presumptions, Causes and Judgments supervised by Dr. Abdul Jalil Zauhair Damra. In the same year, after graduation, Abulkhair established his own human rights organization (MHRSA) which he managed to register in Canada in 2012 to became the first registered Saudi human rights organization.[2]

Beginning of activities[edit]

In 2007, Abulkhair and other activists released a reform petition titled Parameters of the Constitutional Monarchy in which they have requested from the Saudi royal family to change to current ruling regime (absolute monarchy) into a democratic system to insure the participation of the people through free elections. One year later, he organised a hunger strike for prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia for 48 hours, as the first hunger strike campaign in Saudi Arabia in a human rights case.

Prominence in the community[edit]

In 2009, Waleed Abu al-Khair filed a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry to release the reform activist Abdul Rahman Al Shumari. Additionally, he founded the organization "Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia". Moreover, Abu al-Khair participated in the Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit in Mexico. While in Yemen, al- Khair became a Certified Trainer on Human Rights by the Human Rights Information & Training Center (HRITC). Later in that year, he and other youth activists launched a campaign called "Save Jeddah" after the city faced a devastating flood, where they set up a Facebook page that has been used as a key platform to manage and organize Jeddah resucue efforts and actions.[3]

International representation[edit]

In 2010, Abulkhair started to build his international reputation as a credible and reliable source to represent Saudi Arabia internationally in human rights causes. He participated in two meetings arranged by Netherlands-based organization "Bridging The Gulf", one in the European Parliament about the human rights situation in the Gulf states, the other in Kuwait about human rights activists in the GCC countries. Moreover, he attended a conference that was organised by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Bahrain. While in Bahrain, Abulkhair was invited by Front Line Defenders to a meeting to discuss issues related to Human Rights in the GCC countries with major European diplomats. Additionally, he attended a workshop in monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, conducted by Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and the Scandinavian Institute For Human Rights.

Locally, and in the same year, Abulkhair was appointed by the British Embassy as the dedicated lawyer for a British prisoner.[3]

Samar Badawi case[edit]

Samar Badawi is a Saudi woman who was in prison for disobedience under the Saudi Arabian male guardianship system, Abulkhair was her lawyer and defended her in court in addition to initiating an online campaign that created a huge awareness about her case within the Saudi society using different social channels such as Twitter, Facebook and a dedicated blog that was publishing all the documents and updates related to the case. The Free Samar Campaign is considered the first Saudi Twitter campaign that made an effect on reality. Within a few days, it became a public story, and was covered massively by local media. Three weeks later, Badawi was released and Abulkhair won what is called the most important case of women. Later Badawi and Abulkhair were married.[3]

Society movements[edit]

Abulkhair had a role in several Saudi social movements in 2011. He wrote several petitions demanding civil and political rights, the latest one demanding the right of women to drive. In a judicial precedent, Abulkhair filed a lawsuit against the ban on women's participation in municipal elections. He also launched a campaign for municipal elections with other youth activists, the result was the winning of their candidate. In that year, Forbes Middle East named him as one of the top 100 Arab activists on Twitter with more than 40,000 followers.[4]

International recognition[edit]

In 2012, Abulkhair was selected by the U.S. Department of State as a finalist in the Middle East Partnership Initiative’s Leaders for Democracy Fellowship program.[5] Additionally, he joined the Irish Front Line Defenders Foundation for the protection of human rights defenders.[6] Abulkhair was also listed by Portland Communications as one of the top 40 Arabs and the top 10 Saudis on Twitter with more than 53,000 followers. He and Tunisian lawyer Radhia Nasraoui shared the 2012 Swedish Olof Palme Prize.[7] Because of a travel ban, he could not receive the prize himself, so two members of MHRSA went and collected the prize on his behalf, his wife Samar Badawi and Fahad Al Fahad. Abulkhair then registered his organisation Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) in Canada as an independent human rights organisation, following the refusal of the Saudi authorities to allow the organisation to be registered in the kingdom. MHRSA is now considered the first Saudi human rights organization registered outside Saudi Arabia.[8]

Smood, the weekly salon[edit]

As a reaction to the Saudi authorities decision to shut down "Bridges Café" in Jeddah, which was a meeting point for Saudi youth to talk and discuss several topics, Abu al-Khair started a weekly gathering in his living room, hosting a few dozen of people, most of them politically engaged Saudi youth from different backgrounds. Topics focus on political, religious and human rights issues, in addition to cultural and intellectual subjects. The salon is named “Smood” (صمود), an Arabic word that can be translated as “resistance” or “steadfastness.”

Smood was attacked heavily by many conservatives on the social media and on TV. It has been claimed that the salon is encouraging atheism and skepticism, especially after Hamza Kashgari’s case knowing that he was a personal friend of Abu al-Khair and many other regular visitors to the meetings. One day, few conservatives visited Smood and secretly recorded the discussion without the attendees permission; on the next day, they tweeted negatively about the topics discussed and the type of people attending Smood. Moreover, they have contacted a TV show and requested from the government and the Hai'ia to take serious actions against such meetings. Abulkhair defended his salon by saying that he is offering the freedom of speech, the freedom of belief and the freedom of expression, which are things that cannot be provided outside the door of his house.[9][10]


Abulkhair was facing two trials. On February 4, 2014, the Court of Appeals in Mekkah, approved a 3-month sentence for charges of contempt of the judiciary against Abulkhair. However, Waleed remained free. [11]

On April 15 2014, Waleed got arrested in the Specialized Criminal Court when he was attending the fifth session of the trial. His family did not receive any news about him until the next day, when his wife went to the court and was told that he had been arrested and sent to Al-Ha'ir Prison. His wife then visited Al-Ha'ir Prison and was denied speaking to him. [11]

The second trial of Abulkhair started on November 4, 2013 and the charges included breaking allegiance to the ruler, disrespecting the authorities, creating an unauthorized association and supervising it (MHRSA), contributing to the establishment of another (ACPRA) and inciting the public opinion. These charges had already been considered in Jeddah Court at the first trial which issued his 3-month sentence.[11]

On 22 April 2014, one week after his arrest, his wife said that he was under "torture for political purposes." [12]


On July 7, 2014, Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, followed by 15 years of ban on travel. The Specialised Criminal Court in Jiddah found him guilty of "undermining the regime and officials", "inciting public opinion" and "insulting the judiciary." In addition, Abulkhair was fined 200,000 riyals (£31,110).[13]

The ruling was criticized by international human rights organizations such as HRW[1] and Amnesty International.[14] In addition, it was criticized by both the U.S. Department of State[15] and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.[16]


Additionally, Abulkhairhas published over 300 articles in Saudi newspapers concerning legal reforms and human rights issues.


Several major international journalists have interviewed Abulkhair, including Kevin Sullivan of the Washington Post, Pierre Prier of the Le Figaro, Frank Gardner of the BBC, Jacob Templin of the TIME Magazine, and Bitte Hammargren of Svenska Dagbladet.[19] Moreover, several media were interested about Abulkhair's activities such as CNN, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Al Hiwar, Financial Times and many others.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Human Rights Watch. 2014-07-07 https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/07/saudi-arabia-15-year-sentence-prominent-activist |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 2014-07-19. 
  2. ^ ar:وليد أبوالخير
  3. ^ a b c "ارتفاع عدد وفيات سيول جدة إلى 106" [Number of deaths in Jeddah to 106]. The Message of Islam. 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2013.  (Arabic)
  4. ^ "Top 100 Most Followed Arabs on Twitter". Forbes Middle East. 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.  (Arabic)
  5. ^ "Saudi Arabian human rights lawyer banned from travelling to US". Amnesty International. 27 March 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Photos of مرصد حقوق الإنسان في السعودية : Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi (MHRSA)". Facebook. 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "Saudi Arabia / Sweden - Human Rights Defender Waleed Sami Abulkhair Awarded the 2012 Olof Palme Prize". Gulf Centre for Human Rights. 26 January 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "Saudi Arabia: Rights Groups Blocked From Operating". Human Rights Watch. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Templin, Jacob (12 July 2012). "In Saudi Arabia, Activists Speak Out Online and in Private". TIME.com. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  10. ^ "‫وليد ابوالخير و ديوانيه الصمود ديوانيه الألحاد والكفر". YouTube. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2013.  (Arabic)
  11. ^ a b c "Saudi Arabia: Free Prominent Rights Activist". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  12. ^ (Arabic) ""أكثر السعوديات شجاعة" تدافع عن زوجها المعتقل". BBC. Retrieved 2014-05-03. 
  13. ^ http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/waleed-abulkhair-given-15-years-activism-who-influential-saudi-human-rights-lawyer-1455611
  14. ^ "New anti-terror law used to imprison Saudi Arabian human rights activist". Amnesty International. 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2014-07-19. 
  15. ^ "US 'troubled' by jailing of Saudi rights activist". Yahoo! News. 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2014-07-19. 
  16. ^ "Saudi Arabia: Pillay concerned by harsh sentences against human rights defenders". Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2014-07-10. Retrieved 2014-07-19. 
  17. ^ "Our steadfast pursuit of a freer Saudi Arabia". Washington Post. April 20, 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  18. ^ "Saudis Stymied by Fear". Institute for War & Peace Reporting. 1 July 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 
  19. ^ http://www.svd.se/nyheter/utrikes/palmepristagaren-later-sig-inte-kuvas_3376924.svd