Friday, November 21, 2008

SAUDI ARABIA BANS LAWYER FROM RECEIVING AWARD

SAUDI ARABIA BANS LAWYER FROM RECEIVING AWARD

The Saudi authorities have banned a crusading defence attorney from travelling abroad to receive Human Rights Watch's 2008 Human RightsDefenders Award. Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim was due to be honoured in November in London, Parisand Geneva with the award for his fight for the rights of Saudi citizensagainst arbitrary and unjust rulings. Al-Lahim gained worldwide attention for defending a woman from Qatif whowas sentenced in November 2006 to several months in prison and 90 lashesafter being gang-raped. Her punishment was for an act that preceded therape: being alone in a car with a man who was not related to her, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia. An appeals court increased the woman's sentence to200 lashings and six months in jail. In December 2007, King Abdullah set aside the woman's sentence after the case drew international criticism. Al-Lahim "is at the forefront of the struggle to put into effect the kindof judicial reforms that King Abdullah has announced," said Human RightsWatch. Unable to attend the ceremony in London on 11 November, al-Lahim preparedremarks that were read at the event: "This award is an acknowledgement ofthe hundreds of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia," he said. "It isalso a recognition of the work of brave writers who have spoken againstIslamist extremists and their calls for violence." Four other activists have been honoured with the Human Rights Defenderaward. Sri Lankan rights defender Sunila Abeysekera won for the two decades shehas spent working as an activist amid Sri Lanka's civil war, exposingserious abuses by government security forces and the Tamil Tigers. Mathilde Muhindo works to support rape victims and to stop the use of rapeas a weapon of war in Democratic Republic of Congo. Umida Niazova, an Uzbek journalist, continues to speak out against thegovernment's abuses, despite being convicted for covering the 2005 massacrein Andijan, where troops killed hundreds of unarmed protesters. Bo Kyi spent more than seven years in prison for his political activismsince the pro-democracy riots in Burma in 1988. Upon release from jail, heco-founded the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Mae Sot,Thailand. He said upon accepting his award in London, "We have a way tocommunicate with the prisoners and get their stories out. I cannot tell youhow we do this. I do not want the Burmese regime to find out. But I cantell you that these stories fill the pages of our reports and those ofHuman Rights Watch ... Over time, the stories of these prisoners generatepressure on the international community to take a stand." The awards are being presented at a series of dinners across North Americaand Europe in November.

For more information on the 2007 Human Rights Watch honourees, see:http://tinyurl.com/5a7jfj For details on the campaign to lift al-Lahim's travel ban, see:http://tinyurl.com/57mn6c For Bo Kyi's acceptance, see George Packer's blog on "The New Yorker":http://tinyurl.com/5m8h9m

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