Saudi rights lawyer detained by authorities, says wife

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A prominent Saudi rights lawyer and activist has been detained by authorities after appearing in court in Riyadh on sedition charges, his wife said on Wednesday.

Waleed Abu al-Khair was sentenced by a court in the city of Jeddah to three months in jail in October for signing a petition in 2011 against the imprisonment of a group of activists demanding political reforms.

An appeals court in the Muslim holy city of Makkah confirmed the sentence in February, but authorities did not implement it and Abu al-Khair had remained a free man since then.

He also faces charges including breaking allegiance to the country's ruler, disrespecting the authorities, creating an unauthorised association and inciting public opinion.

His wife, Samar Badawi, said Abu al-Khair had gone to the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh on Tuesday for a hearing, and she had not been able to communicate with him since.

"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.

She said she did not know if her husband had been sentenced by the court in Riyadh on Tuesday, whether the trial was over or whether he had been convicted.

Abu al-Khair, a lawyer, had been representing himself and under court rules, could not take a telephone into the court.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said the arrest "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 authorities in the US-allied kingdom have launched a new campaign to curb political, religious and social dissent in the birthplace of Islam. The government denies there is any crackdown.

Abu al-Khair is founder and director of an organisation 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.

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.

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