Three jailed Saudi human rights activists have been named winners of “the alternative Nobel prize” award, along with two anti-corruption activists, a farmer, and an agricultural scientist.
Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair 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.”
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Created in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours efforts that prize founder Jacob von Uexkull felt were being ignored by the Nobel prizes.
Previous winners include former NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK-based NGO working towards the abolition of the international arms trade, and the White Helmets, a Syrian rescue group that helps victims of the country’s brutal civil war.
“The three laureates have challenged this authoritarian system through peaceful methods, calling for universal human rights, and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy,” the jury said.
“As a consequence of their courageous struggle for a more pluralistic and democratic society, the three men have been sentenced to between 10 and 15 years imprisonment and all are currently in jail.
“Their visionary and inclusive approach to shaping a positive future for their home country has been, and continues to be, a great source of inspiration for many people in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region.”
Al-Qahtani and al-Hamid were founding activists of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known by its Arabic acronym HASEM.
According to CNN, they were sentenced by Saudi authorities to 10 and 11 years for “providing inaccurate information to foreign media, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organisation, as well as other offenses”.
Meanwhile, activist and lawyer Abu al-Khair was arrested in 2014 for signing a statement with dozens of others calling for reforms in the kingdom.
He later received a 15-year sentence for “disobeying the ruler” and “harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organizations,” likely over his work as an outspoken activist.
The 2018 honorary award was given to Thelma Aldana of Guatemala and Colombia’s Ivan Velasquez “for their innovative work in exposing abuse of power and prosecuting corruption.”
The other two winners were Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso who transformed an almost 40-hectare piece of inhospitable land into forest, and Australian Tony Rinaudo, an agronomist who has taken on the role of combating the Sahel region’s extreme deforestation.