U.S. 'troubled' by jailing of Saudi human rights activist

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it was troubled by Saudi Arabia's sentencing prominent human rights lawyer Walid abu al-Khair to 15 years in prison on charges that included seeking to undermine the state and insulting the judiciary. "We urge the Saudi government to respect international human rights norms, a point we make to them regularly," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. The Saudi rights activist was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a trial on sedition charges that included breaking allegiance to King Abdullah, showing disrespect for authorities, creating an unauthorized association and inciting public opinion. A Jeddah court also fined him 200,000 Saudi riyals ($53,300), banned him from traveling outside the kingdom for another 15 years and had all his websites closed down, the Saudi state news agency reported on Sunday. Last October, he was sentenced by a Jeddah court to three months in jail for signing a petition in 2011 against the imprisonment of a group of activists demanding political reforms. Abu al-Khair, the founder and director of an organization named the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, was critical of an anti-terrorism law passed by Saudi Arabia at the start of the year that was widely condemned by rights activists as a tool to stifle dissent. In the past year, Saudi authorities have been criticized by international rights groups for jailing several prominent activists on charges ranging from setting up an illegal organization to damaging the reputation of the country. The world's top oil exporter has regularly dismissed criticism of its human rights record by Western countries and campaign groups. (Reporting by Peter Cooney; Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)