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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Waleed Abu al-Khair


Detained Since: April 15, 2014.

Charges: Inciting public opinion against the government and insulting the country's leaders and judiciary.

Sentence: Fifteen years in prison, a fifteen year travel ban after release, and a fine of 200,000 riyals.

Biography: Waleed Abu al-Khair is a human rights lawyer and founder of the organization Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.  He was arrested for his human rights activism on April 15, 2014, and has been in prison ever since.  Until his arrest, he was representing Raif Badawi (who is also included in the Defending Freedoms Project).  In fact, al-Khair is Badawi's brother-in-law; he is married to Badawi's sister, Samar, who just gave birth to their first child.  On July 6, 2014, al-Khair was found guilty of "inciting public opinion against the government" and "insulting the country's leaders and judiciary," and sentenced to 15 years in prison, a 15-year travel ban after his release, and fined 200,000 riyals.  On January 15th, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s Court of Appeals denied al-Khair’s petition, upholding the full 15-year sentence

Advocate: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)


  • Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. James Risch wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to advocate for the immediate release of Waleed Abu al-Khair, during his visit to Saudi Arabia (April 19, 2016, U.S. Senate).
  • Abu al-Khair was awarded the Olof Palme Prize in 2012 and the Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Award in 2015. In September 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for his release along with eight other prisoners (June 17, 2016, Counter Punch).
  • The Law Society of Upper Canada announced that Waleed Abu al-Khair will receive one of its 2016 human rights awards on February 22, 2017 (January 18, 2017, Law Society Gazette).
  • Waleed Abu al-Khair, Abdullah al-Hamid, and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani were jointly awarded a one million kronor ($113,400) cash award by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation "for their visionary and courageous efforts to reform the totalitarian political system in Saudi Arabia." Created in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honors efforts that prize founder Jacob von Uexkull felt were being ignored by the Nobel prize (September 24, 2018, Al Jazeera).
  • Nine Senators wrote a letter to King Salman, calling on him to pardon Waleed Abu al-Khair and release other detained activists [March 17, 2019, Office of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)].
  • Waleed Abu al-Khair received the 2019 ABA International Human Rights Award during the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco in recognition of his efforts to defend vulnerable clients and advocate for an independent judiciary and democratic reforms. The annual award honors a lawyer, human rights luminary or international human rights organization that has made an exceptional contribution to advancing human rights outside of the United States (August 8, 2019, ABA Journal).
  • Waleed Abu al-Khair was placed in solitary confinement and under tightenned security on November 26, 2019, and went on a hunger strike since November 29, 2019 (December 6, 2019, Amnesty International).
  • The Lebanon based Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that Waleed Abu al-Khair had been transferred to a hospital after a lengthy hunger strike (January 17, 2020, Law Society Gazette).
  • In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for the release of writer and human rights activist Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair (March 22, 2021). 
  • To commemorate the eighth anniversary of Waleed Abu al-Khair's arrest on April 15, 2022, four human rights organizations published an open letter calling for his immediate, unconditional release (April 15, 2022, Democracy for the Arab World Now).
  • On June 14, 2022, during a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) voiced his continued support for multiple Defending Freedoms Project prisoners of concience, including Raif Badawi, Senator Leila de Lima, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Ahmed Mansoor (June 14, 2022).
  • In advance of President Biden's trip to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in July 2022, Freedom House released a statement calling on the President to raise human rights concerns with officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during his visit and push for the release of Waleed Abu al-Khair (July 11, 2022, Freedom House).
  • During the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, Right Livelihood delivered a statement which highlighted the challenges faced by Right Livelihood Award Laureates, including the case of Waleed Abu al-Khair (October 7, 2022, Right Livelihood).