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Tue 13 Jan 2015 01:36 PM

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Saudi Arabia increases jail sentence for human rights lawyer

Court adds five years to sentence for Walid Abu al-Khair, founder and director of watchdog group Monitor of Human Rights

Saudi Arabia increases jail sentence for human rights lawyer

A Saudi judge has sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer to an additional five years in jail, his wife said, after he refused to show remorse or recognise the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition.

Walid Abu al-Khair, founder and director of watchdog group Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), was sentenced last year to 10 years in jail on charges that included breaking his allegiance to King Abdullah, showing disrespect for the authorities and creating an unauthorised association.

The Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh also gave Abu al-Khair a five-year suspended sentence, fined him 200,000 riyals ($53,300), banned him from leaving the kingdom for a further 15 years after his eventual release and shut down all his websites.

Abu al-Khair's wife, rights activist Samar Badawai, said the court had decided on Monday to increase his sentence after an appeal by the public prosecutor, who had argued that the lawyer had failed to retract his views or express remorse over them.

"The judge accepted the request and increased the sentence to 15 years imprisonment," Badawi told Reuters by telephone from the Red Sea city of Jeddah after the hearing in Riyadh attended by US and European Uniondiplomats.

The Saudi Justice Ministry was not immediately available to comment on the case.

Badawi said her husband, who is 35, had long objected to the tribunal set up in 2008 to try terrorism suspects. It has since been used to send rights campaigners to prison.

"Walid sees this court as lacking basic international standards for any tribunal and had objected to trying even terrorists in it, let alone rights activists," she said.

Abu al-Khair has also been critical of a Saudi anti-terrorism law passed in early 2014 which is widely seen by activists as a tool to stifle dissent.

The anti-terrorism law says terrorist crimes include any act that "disturbs public order, shakes the security of society or subjects its national unity to danger, or obstructs the primary system of rule or harms the reputation of the state".

In the past year Saudi authorities have been criticised by international rights groups for jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organisation to damaging the reputation of the country.

The world's top oil exporter regularly dismisses criticism of its rights record by Western countries and campaign groups.