Saudi Arabia: 5 years imprisonment for human rights defender Dr Yousef Al Ahmad

Dr Yousef Al Ahmad, Dean of the law faculty of Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment, followed by a 5-year-long travel ban as well as a fine of 103'000 Saudi Riyal (equivalent to 27468 USD) by the Saudi Special Criminal Tribunal in Riyadh on 11 April 2012. His arrest on 8 July 2011 had come after he had publicly criticised the Saudi government, regarding the widespread use of arbitrary detention in particular.
His arrest and detention are therefore clearly a means of repression for having openly spoken about topics of general concern and therefore violate his rights and fundamental freedoms as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On 8 July 2011, agents of the Mabahith (Saudi investigative police) came to his father's house in Dammam, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, to arrest Dr Yousef Al Ahmad. Still without being shown an arrest warrant nor explained the reason for his arrest, Dr Al Ahmad was then taken into custody and subsequently transferred to the New Procedures Prison in Riyadh. This arrest came a day after he posted a video on YouTube in which he called on the Minister of Interior, crown prince Nayef Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to ensure the respect of the Saudi laws with regard to criminal procedure. Dr Al Ahmad spoke in particular about the rampant use of arbitrary detention, referring to his open letter of 17 May 2011 addressed to the Saudi King in which he included the names of 1225 arbitrarily detained persons.

Alkarama informed the UN Special Procedures of Dr Al Ahmad's situation several days after his arbitrary arrest and the latter requested the Saudi government to reply to the allegations laid out above. According to the communications report of the Special Procedures of 23 February 2012, the Saudi authorities have not replied to the Special Procedures' joint urgent appeal of 27 July 2011 as at 31 January 2012. Alkarama regrets this evident lack of cooperation by the Saudi government with the UN human rights mechanisms.

Not only do the Saudi authorities refuse to explain the arbitrary detention of Dr Al Ahmad, but our sources report that he was put on trial before the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh, a court which is mandated to examine cases of terrorist suspects. At a first hearing on 29 October 2011, Dr Al Ahmad's lawyer was prevented from being present in the courtroom while the judge read out the charges. The list of around 20 charges included 'supporting a terrorist organisation', 'dissemination of false information' and 'disturbing public order'. These charges were mainly based on statements Dr Al Ahmad made about a wide range of issues in a set of videos he uploaded to YouTube.

At the third hearing, the judge decided that Dr Al Ahmad should be placed in house arrest, partially due to his weak physical condition. However, the Ministry of Interior refused to implement this decision and Dr Al Ahmad remains in the New Procedures Prison in Riyadh until this day. In addition, Dr Al Ahmad was not able to be in regular and direct contact with his lawyer until mid-February, over seven months after his arrest and he was reportedly only informed of hearings several hours before they took place. He can therefore not be considered to have benefited from legal counsel and the necessary time to prepare his defence.

Eventually, on 11 April 2012, the court found Dr Al Ahmad guilty of acts including 'supporting a terrorist organisation', 'dissemination of false information' and 'disturbing public order'. He was sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment, followed by a 5-year-long travel ban as well as a fine of 103'000 Saudi Riyal, based on the aforementioned video clips in which he speaks, among others, about the authorities' failure to address the issue of arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia.

As outlined above, Dr Yousef Al Ahmad was arrested without being shown an arrest warrant and has been presented before a magistrate to be informed of the charges held against him only close to four months after his arrest. He was then convicted for acts falling under the protection of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after an unfair trial. Alkarama therefore submitted his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other relevant Special Procedures today. We call for Dr Al Ahmad's immediate and unconditional release and recommend the Saudi authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Interior, take all necessary steps to put an end to the widespread use of arbitrary detention.