Waleed Abulkhair is a prominent Saudi Arabian lawyer and human rights activist. The founder and head of the “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia” (MHRSA), he is a courageous and outspoken man who openly speaks out for human rights and political reform. He is an advocate for peaceful activism and is a strong critic of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Born into a famous Hejazi family of judges and Imams of the Holy Mosque in Saudi Arabia, Waleed had an inherent interest in the legal profession and was naturally inclined towards issues of human rights and social justice. After completing his Masters Degree in the Islamic law from Alyarmook University in Jordan he embarked on a career as a legal professional. Later on, he also became involved in activism and first got noticed for his activism when in 2007 he challenged the Saudi authorities by signing a reform petition that requested the ruling government to transition into a democracy from being an absolute monarchy. Over the next few years, he became a prominent figure in human rights activism which did not go well with the Saudi Arabian government. In 2014 he was tried under the new anti-terrorism law, convicted on a series of charges, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in what was clearly an attempt by the Saudi Arabian authorities to punish him for his activism
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 17 June 1979 in Jeddah, west of Saudi Arabia. He hails from a Hejazi family of judges and Imams of the Holy Mosque.
He was raised to be religious and memorized the Holy Quran by heart. He also developed a strong social conscience at a young age.
He studied at the King Abdu Aziz University from where he received his Bachelors Degree in 2003 in Arabic Language.
He also has a license from Shaikh Obaid Allah Al Afqani and was approved by the Teaching Board of the Holy Mosque in Madinah.
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He embarked on a career in the legal profession in 2007 when he joined lawyer Essam Basrawi and started working in his office. By this time, he also became much interested in social activism and was disturbed by the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
He joined hands with several other activists and signed a reform petition in 2007 which demanded that the ruling government in Saudi Arabia transform from an absolute monarchy to a democratic system. The statement titled ‘Features of a Constitutional Monarchy’ requested a system where people would have the right to participate in free elections.
Being a lawyer, he defended several defendants, such as, Dr. Mossa bin Mohammed Al-Qarni, Dr. Saud al-Hashimi and Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Shumaimri who were Jeddah reformers arrested in February 2007.
Owing to his strong conscience, he defended those individuals who had been detained by the Saudi authorities without reasonable cause. In fact, the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia also hired him to defend one of its nationals detained by Saudi authorities.
Then he went to Jordan to further his education and received his Masters Degree in the Islamic law from Alyarmook University in 2009. His thesis, supervised by Dr. AbdulJaleel Zuhair Thamrah, was titled ‘Affinities and Differences in the Evidences and Reasons and Judgments: a Consolidating applicable and Comparative Study’.
He is a peaceful activist who believes in creating awareness about human rights issues through non-violent means. In order to demand the release of some political prisoners whom the Saudi authorities had detained, he organized what he called "the first hunger strike campaign in Saudi Arabia for human rights", which lasted for 48 hours.
In 2008 he founded the ‘Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia’ (MHRSA), an independent human rights organization. However the Saudi authorities blocked the Monitor site and its Facebook page. Thus in 2012 Waleed Abulkhair registered and licensed the Monitor at the Canadian Ministry of Labor, becoming the first Saudi human rights organization to be licensed abroad.
His increasing involvement in human rights works did not go well with the Saudi authorities and he started facing various trials because of his works. Several trivial charges were slapped on him and the Saudi king issued a decree making these charges equivalent to indulging in terrorism.
In July 2014, a Saudi court sentenced him to 15 years in prison after he was tried under the new anti-terrorism law and convicted on a series of charges. He was also banned from travel for 15 years after he serves his sentence.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Olof Palme Prize in 2013 in recognition for his strong and continuous struggle and characterized by selflessness in order to promote respect for human rights and civil rights for both men and women. His wife received the award on his behalf.
Personal Life & Legacy
Waleed Abulkhair took up the case of Samar Badawi, a Saudi woman who was detained in jail for seven months for not obeying her father who used to verbally and physically abuse her and did not allow her to marry. Waleed defended her in courts and launched a social media campaign to demand her release. Due to his relentless efforts, she was finally released from jail after some weeks. By this time the couple had fallen in love and eventually got married. His wife too has become a human rights activist.