Middle East

Saudi activist Waleed Abu al-Khair held over 'meeting hall'

Saudi authorities have detained prominent human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair for setting up an "unauthorised" meeting hall in Jeddah.

He was taken into custody on Wednesday after leading meetings to discuss political affairs, the Institute for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia says.

The lawyer is already facing charges related to disrespecting the judiciary and other ruling institutions.

Saudi Arabia has expanded a crackdown on activists since the Arab Spring.

Mr al-Khair was detained by police for setting up and hosting "reformists" in an "unauthorised diwaniya", or meeting place, his wife Samar Badawi told AFP.

She said he would be questioned on Thursday by the public prosecutor in Jeddah, who will then decide whether to release him on bail or keep him in custody.

Mr al-Khair confirmed his arrest on his Twitter account.

According to the UK-based Institute for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Mr al-Khair started to host meetings to discuss politics, religion and human rights at his home after the authorities closed a separate meeting point in a cafe in Jeddah.

The gatherings had come under attack by conservatives on social media and TV networks who called for it to be shut down, it said.

His wife had earlier told AFP that the rights activist was on trial "for disrespecting the judiciary system" and "contacting foreign organisations and signing a petition demanding the release of detainees".

He was also reportedly given a travel ban, which prevented him from travelling to the US earlier this year.

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