Another Human Rights Prize for Al-Lahem

Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, the well-known Saudi lawyer, was awarded earlier this year the International Human Rights Lawyer Award from the American Bar Association, but sadly he could not receive the award in person because he is not allowed to travel outside the country.

This week, al-Lahem has received another honor, winning the 2008 Human Rights Defender award from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The international organization called the Saudi government to immediately lift the ban on foreign travel for al-Lahem so that he can attend the award ceremonies in London, Paris, and Geneva this November.

“Barring al-Lahem from travel only highlights the severe and arbitrary limits to basic freedoms and fairness in the kingdom,” Christoph Wilcke, senior researcher on Saudi Arabia at HRW said.

I hope these calls will not fall on deaf ears, and I hope to see our two local human rights organizations make a statement, not just on behalf of al-Lahem, but also for all activists who has been working to promote the culture of citizens’ rights. It has been almost four years since the travel ban was imposed on the lawyer who has shown exceptional courage in his relentless effort to defend human rights in the Kingdom. Once again, it is about time.

Hadeel Prize

Ever since blogger Hadeel al-Hodaif passed away earlier this year, friends and fellow bloggers have been thinking about different initiatives to honor and commemorate the young women who defended free speech and believed in a new era of citizen journalism. One of the first ideas that came to the minds of her friends is to establish a prize in her name to recognize the increasing efforts in the Arab world to start a freer media on the web.

This idea has finally materialized as fellow blogger Sami Omar announced today the launch of Hadeel International Prize for New Media (HIPNM), an international award that aims at discovering, encouraging and highlighting Arab talents in the new media arena. The prize will kick off next year in five categories: blogging, specialized blogging, personal blogging, podcasting and videoblogging. For more information, please contact Mohammed al-Saleh: / +966504877334

Al-Lahem Awarded Human Rights Prize

LahemAbdul-Rahman al-Lahem, the brave Saudi lawyer and human rights activist, has received the International Human Rights Lawyer Award from the American Bar Association (ABA). He said this award “values the work of a large group of activists in Saudi society who are defending human rights.”

Al-Lahem’s name has become associated with a series of high-profile cases in the country where he volunteered to defend people against the government and the official religious establishment. He has been a vocal critic to the judicial system and this has gained him many enemies among the conservatives.

He certainly deserves to be awarded, but here comes the sad part: he will not be able to receive the award in person during a conference held in Vienna in July unless a four-year-old travel ban imposed on him by the authorities here is lifted.

I think the ban has been imposed on him following his defense for the the three so-called “constitutional reformists” back in 2004. At the time, he was jailed for defending their right in a fair trial. He later was pardoned along with the reformists and a fifth activist shortly after King Abdullah ascended the throne.

Back from Beirut

The good news is: my presentation did not end up in a disaster. The bad news is: I did not have time to see the city. But overall it was a good trip: I met many great people and I have had fun.

On the first day we attended the 2nd Gebran Tueni Award ceremony, a big event witnessed by hundreds of dignitaries and guests. We enjoyed touching speeches by Nayla Tueni, Majida Al Roumi and others, and I was especially moved by Majida speech which demonstrated the anger and frustration of Lebanese people with the current political deadlock. The award was given this year to Michel Hajji Georgiou, a senior political analyst at the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon. He told us during the dinner party that night the he had to sell his car because he has been afraid of being assassinated by the pro-Syrian elements.

Except for one Saudi guy working for the LBC and has been living in Beirut since 1994, I was the only participant from Saudi Arabia and the GCC. Interestingly, many people came to me after the panel and said they could not believe that I was Saudi. I can tell that many in the Arab World have a certain stereotype for the citizens of this country. Anyways, I’m really glad that the session turned out to be fine and that many people liked it.

As I said earlier, I did not have enough time to go out and enjoy the different parts of the city, but I got to hang out with friends in Al Hamra, have breakfast by the Rawsha rock, and had a walk in Ashrafia and Solider. Beirut is a beautiful city, but because it has gone through a lot, it looks bruised and tired. I suspect that tourists would enjoy seeing the army everywhere searching their bags and asking them to stop taking pictures of the city’s landmarks. Let’s hope things would get better before the summer season.

Finally, I want to thank the organizers for inviting me to be part of this event and I hope to see them again in Beirut next year. I also want to thank fellow bloggers Wael Abbas and Mohammed Azraq, as well as Mahmoud Abdelfattah, the best moderator ever :-) Last but not least, I want to thank Alexandra, Hala, Maha, Mustapha, Sherif, Yumna, Rana, Zina, Adel, Virginie, Fadwa, and all those who made my first visit to Lebanon fun but I forgot their names.

P.S. The first picture is inspired by Roba.