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.

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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.

Justice and Common Sense

As the new reforms on the legal system are yet to be implemented, I guess that some judges thought they would use whatever left of time for the current system to demonstrate their misjudgment and lack of intelligence. It was not enough for them to sentence the Qatif girl to 90 lashes a year ago, so they decided to more than double the number of lashes plus six months of jail. The girl is a rape victim, but apparently being raped is not enough to spare her the punishment for something called ‘khulwa’.

Now what kind of ‘khulwa’ that would take place in front of a crowded shopping mall is beyond my comprehension, but that’s just me. I’m pretty sure our esteemed judges and those who support this bizarre ruling have many justifications to present upon request, but then again, who on earth am I to question a court which uses the word ‘sharia’ to legitimize their decisions no matter how absurd these decisions are?

Some people have asked me why I have not written about this earlier, and the reason is because I was angry, disgusted and depressed. Those following me on Twitter have probably seen this, and although I have been discussing the issues with my family and friends who share the same feelings with me, I could not bring myself to write about it without using some kind of language that I’d rather not to use on the blog.

The victim’s lawyer Abdul Rahman Al Lahem has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session because the judge thinks that Al Lahem was using the media to affect the court’s ruling. Now how can the media be used to affect the ruling is anyone’s guess, but why should the judge be affected by the media might be something we should be looking at, because as far as I have been told, our right honorable judges are very wise men who claim to base their verdicts on Qura and Sunna, not some blabbering in the media. Anyway, it is not the first time that Al Lahem faces a problem like this. He has been jailed before for defending reformists but he continued his work as Saudi Arabia’s most important human rights lawyer.

It is up to the appeal court now to confront this unjust ruling and finish the suffering of the girl and her husband who bravely stood up beside his wife. Otherwise, this case might require the interference of the king in order for justice and common sense to prevail. Let’s hope they will prevail in the end.

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