April 24, 2023
Today, 24 April 2023, marks six months since prominent Saudi human rights defender and co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA)* Mohammed al-Qahtani last contacted his family. Since then, the authorities have subjected him to incommunicado detention. Al-Qahtani served his full sentence in November 2022. Five ACPRA members remain imprisoned in reprisal for their peaceful human rights activism: Mohammed al-Qahtani, Essa al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Bajadi, Fawzan al-Harbi, and Abdulaziz al-Shubaili.
Mohammed al-Qahtani was arbitrarily arrested in March 2012 and interrogated regarding his work with ACPRA and his peaceful activism. On 9 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced him to 10 years in prison to be followed by a travel ban of equal length on charges including “breaking allegiance to the ruler”, “questioning the integrity of officials”, “seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations”, and “instigating international organizations against the Kingdom.” The authorities failed to release Al-Qahtani on 22 November 2022, when he finished serving his prison sentence. However, since 24 October 2022, Saudi authorities have denied him any contact with his family and continue to keep him in incommunicado detention.
Despite al-Qahtani’s wife making several inquiries about him to al-Ha’ir prison, where al-Qahtani was serving his sentence, prison officers continue to refuse to disclose any information about him. His family has reasons to believe that he has entered into a hunger strike and his health has considerably deteriorated, putting his life at imminent risk. This is not the first time Mohammed al-Qahtani was denied contact with his family. In April 2021, he was held incommunicado after testing positive for Covid-19, raising fears regarding his health and well-being for the duration of his illness. For the past 10 years of imprisonment, security forces subjected al-Qahtani to inhumane and degrading conditions of detention, and they have also subjected him to torture and ill-treatment, including beatings.
We are all the more concerned about -al-Qahtani’s well-being considering the death of ACPRA co-founder Abdullah al-Hamid in detention on 23 April 2020. Abdullah al-Hamid suffered from hypertension, and his doctor told him three months before he passed away that he needed to undergo heart surgery. He was threatened by prison authorities that if he told his family about his health condition, they would cut his communication with his family. Dr Abdullah al-Hamid had suffered a stroke on 9 April 2020 and remained in detention, despite being in a coma in the intensive care unit at al-Shumaisi Hospital in Riyadh.
Following al-Hamid’s death, the Saudi authorities carried out a wave of arrests against several individuals who expressed sympathy over his passing.
Created in 2009 by 11 human rights defenders and academics, ACPRA was established to promote and protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia, including through promoting constitutional reforms. While ACPRA was never officially registered by the government, it was formally banned as an organization and dissolved by court order in 2013. As of May 2016, all of its 11 members had been sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) to lengthy prison sentences ranging between seven and 15 years for their human rights activism and cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.
In light of the above, we, the undersigned organisations, reiterate our call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mohammed al-Qahtani and other imprisoned members of ACPRA who are arbitrarily detained solely for their peaceful activism. In the interim, we call on the authorities to disclose the fate and whereabouts of Mohammed al-Qahtani, ensure immediate contact with his family, and provide him with any medical care he may need. Saudi Arabia should ensure a free and enabling environment for all human rights defenders, in order for them to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals and without undue restrictions.
*ACPRA co-founding members
Among the co-founding members of ACPRA, five remain imprisoned today: Dr Mohammed al-Qahtani (sentenced to 10 years in prison followed by a 10-year travel ban. He completed his sentence in November 2022, yet remains in detention incommunicado); Mohammed al-Bajadi (sentenced to four years in prison, four years of suspension followed by a 10-year travel ban, and currently detained since May 2018); Abdulaziz al-Shubaili (sentenced to eight years in prison followed by an eight-year travel ban); Fowzan al-Harbi (sentenced to 10 years in prison followed by a 10-year travel ban); Essa al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison, followed by an 11-year travel ban). Sheikh Sulaiman al-Rashudi (sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 15-year travel ban. He was released in April 2018 for medical reasons; Abdulkarim al-Khodr (sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban. He was released in January 2023 upon the completion of his sentence but remains subject to the travel ban); Abdulrahman al-Hamid sentenced to 9 years in prison, followed by a 9-year travel ban. He was released in January 2023 upon the completion of his sentence but remains subject to a travel ban); Dr Abdullah al-Hamid (sentenced to 11 years in prison followed by an 11-year travel ban), passed away on 23 April 2020 in custody. Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani, alongside Waleed Abu al-Khair, have received the Right Livelihood Award in November 2018.
MENA Rights Group, Right Livelihood, ALQST, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), Freedom Initiative, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement, Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Amnesty International, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Human Rights First, Action des Chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (ACAT France)