Saudi human rights defender Mohammed Al Otaibi serving a 17-year prison sentence

Saudi human rights defender Mohammed Al Otaibi serving a 17-year prison sentence

Human rights activist Mohammed Al Otaibi is the co-founder of the Union for Human Rights, established in 2013. In 2017, when Al Otaibi tried to flee to Norway to avoid reprisals for his human rights work, he was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia from Qatar. In 2018, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC). In 2019, an additional one-year prison sentence was handed down on Al Otaibi, which was increased to a three-year sentence on appeal in April 2021, resulting in a 17-year prison term in total. He is currently detained at Al Mabahith prison in Dammam.
Latest Updates
April 14, 2021: MENA Rights Group and ALQST for Human Rights request the urgent intervention of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Early 2021: Al Otaibi’s additional one-year sentence is increased to a three-year sentence by the SCC on appeal, resulting in a 17-year prison term in total.
January 31, 2021: Al Otaibi ends his hunger strike.
January 11, 2021: Al Otaibi starts a hunger strike asking to be moved to a prison closer to his family.
December 1, 2020: Al Otaibi is sentenced to one more year in prison based on the new charges brought against him.
July 25, 2019: In a new trial, Al Otaibi faces new charges of “fleeing justice”, “going to Qatar”, “communicating with foreign entities” and “interfering in public affairs”.
November 20, 2018: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopts Opinion No. 68/2018, qualifying Al Otaibi’s detention as arbitrary and calling for his immediate release.
February 22, 2018: Al Otaibi appeals the sentencing, which is later upheld.
January 25, 2018: The SCC deliberates in a closed hearing and sentences him to 14 years in prison.
June 12, 2017: The SCC resumes the proceedings against him.
May 28, 2017: Al Otaibi is forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia, where he is arrested by the Al Mabahith and transferred to the Al Mabahith prison in Dammam. He is held incommunicado for two weeks.
May 24, 2017: On his way to Oslo, Al Otaibi is arrested at Doha International Airport.
March 30, 2017: Al Otaibi flees to Qatar to avoid prosecution for his human rights activities. He obtains refugee status and is supposed to be resettled in Norway.
October 30, 2016: Al Otaibi is summoned once again and charged, inter alia, with “harming the reputation of the Kingdom before the international community and human rights bodies”.
March 2014: Al Otaibi is summoned for questioning again by the Public Prosecution. He is placed under surveillance, which includes his social media accounts.
May 4, 2013: The Union for Human Rights is forced to halt its activities. Requests to officially register the association are rejected.
April 3, 2013: Along with a group of other Saudi activists, Al Otaibi participates in the creation of the Union for Human Rights. Shortly after the association’s establishment, the Prosecution launches a criminal investigation against its founding members. Al Otaibi, along with three other activists, is summoned for “co-founding an illegal association”.

On April 3, 2013, along with a group of other Saudi activists, Al Otaibi participated in the creation of a new human rights association, the Union for Human Rights. Shortly after, the Public Prosecution launched a criminal investigation against its founding members. Al Otaibi, together with other activists, was summoned for “co-founding an illegal association”. In the interrogations that followed, they were denied the right to a legal counsel.

On May 4, 2013, the Union for Human Rights was officially forced to halt its activities. The requests for registration, made in May 2013 and once again in November 2015, were rejected.

Al Otaibi was once again summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecution office in March 2014, and required to sign a pledge to stop participating in interviews broadcasted on TV and issuing reports and statements. He was then placed under surveillance without notification by the Public Prosecution, which also included his social media accounts.

On October 30, 2016, Al Otaibi was summoned by the SCC and charged, partially based on the Saudi Anti-Cybercrime Law, with “illegally founding an association”, “spreading chaos and stirring up public opinion against the State”, “harming the reputation of the Kingdom before the international community and human rights bodies”, “preparing, signing and publishing statements on the Internet that are harmful to the reputation of the Kingdom and of its judicial and security institutions, with the intention of dividing national unity, and damaging the reputation of the State and its security and stability” and with publishing “hostile and abusive posts insulting the Kingdom and the religious authority and aimed at disrupting the social order” on a Twitter account.

On March 30, 2017, in order to avoid being prosecuted for his human rights activism, Al Otaibi fled to Qatar, where he obtained refugee status. He was supposed to be resettled in Norway as part of a UN protection programme.

On May 24, 2017, Al Otaibi was arrested at Doha International Airport on his way to Oslo. On May 28, 2017, he was then deported to Saudi Arabia. Upon his arrival, he was arrested by officers of the General Directorate of Investigation (Al Mabahith) and transferred to the Al Mabahith prison in Dammam. He was subsequently held incommunicado for two weeks and was placed in solitary confinement for three months.

On July 12, 2017, Al Otaibi was brought before the SCC, which resumed the proceedings against him. Until that date, Al Otaibi was denied access to a lawyer.

On January 25, 2018, the SCC deliberated on Al Otaibi’s case in a closed hearing and sentenced him on the aforementioned charges to 14 years in prison. Al Otaibi appealed the decision on February 22, 2018, but it was later upheld.

On November 20, 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted Opinion 68/2018, in which it qualified Al Otaibi’s detention as arbitrary and called for his immediate release.

On July 25, 2019, Al Otaibi was brought back to court in a new trial, on the charges of “fleeing justice”, “going to Qatar”, “communicating with foreign entities” and “interfering in public affairs”. On December 1, 2020, he was sentenced to one more year in prison.

From January 11, 2021, until January 31, 2021, Al Otaibi went on a hunger strike asking to be moved to a prison in Jeddah, to be closer to his family. He moreover requested proper medical care. While the authorities promised to meet his demands, he remains detained at Al Mabahith prison in Dammam.

In April 2021, the SCC increased the additional one-year sentence handed down in December 2020 to a three-year sentence on appeal, resulting in a 17-year prison term in total.

On April 14, 2021, MENA Rights Group and ALQST for Human Rights sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, asking her to call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Al Otaibi and other detained activists.