“Even from prison, you can still light a candle”.
Waleed Abu al-Khair began to practice law in Saudi Arabia in 2007. He quickly earned an international reputation as one of the most respected human rights lawyers in one of the world’s most repressive countries. Within a year he joined in a high profile critique of the ruling monarchy. He repeatedly and openly advocated for democracy. He controversially defended the human rights of women, dissidents, and prisoners targeted by the authorities.
Before long, the government called his stands for human rights terrorism. They harassed him, surveilled him, shut down his social media and finally put him in prison, where he has remained since 2014. Even from prison, though, he refuses to back down and continues to publicly press for freedom and human rights. This is his story.
First, a bit about Saudi Arabia, which has been a close ally of the US since the 1940s. Saudi Arabia is tightly ruled by a hereditary monarchy and is a scary place to be a free human being, much less a human rights lawyer. Freedom House rates Saudi Arabia as one of the worst in the world in civil liberties and political rights. Torture is common, according to Amnesty International. The country ranks third globally, right behind North Korea, in denying freedom of the press, frequently arresting not only protestors but also those who report on protests. Human Rights Watch notes government authorities continue…