Articles

Saudi Arabia: Prominent Human Rights Defender Risks 5 Years of Prison for cooperating with the UN

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On 18 June 2012, the Riyadh Criminal Court brought charges against prominent Human Rights Defender Dr Mohammad Fahad Al Qahtani, co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). The eleven charges are clearly all related to his work as a lawyer and human rights defender and he would, if found guilty, risk imprisonment for five years, a travel ban, as well as a heavy fine. Most notably, Dr Al Qahtani stands accused of sending 'false information presented as facts to the official international mechanisms [the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations]'.

Since the establishment of the ACPRA in 2009, Dr Al Qahtani and his colleagues have been diligently documenting and reporting cases of human rights violations in the Kingdom, with a particular focus on the thousands of cases of arbitrary detentions. ACPRA has, inter alia, helped families of people arbitrarily detained in filling complaints before the Board of Grievances, the administrative jurisdiction competent to consider complaints against the state. In order to raise awareness on this issue of arbitrary detention, ACPRA also contributed to numerous Alkarama submissions to the UN Special Procedures, namely the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. On 2 May 2012, this Working Group, in its Opinion No. 8/2012, noted "with concern a consistent pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention in Saudi Arabia."

Cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms is protected by Human Rights Council Resolution 12/2, in which the Council "urges Governments to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who (...) submit or have submitted communications under procedures established by human rights instruments (...)." In Resolution 18/118, the Council further encouraged the observers of the Human Rights Council to "address the issue of cooperation of individuals and groups with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights in the general debate under agenda item 5.".

Today, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) delivered an oral statement to the Human Rights Council at its 20th session to express its deep concern regarding Dr Al Qahtani's situation and the campaign of reprisals targeting Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia. They further called on the Presidency of the Council to engage in a dialogue with the Saudi delegation regarding Dr Al Qahtani's situation in order to ensure that the charges against him and other Human Rights Defenders be dropped.

The video of the statement can be viewed here.

Summons for interrogation, travel bans, appearance before Saudi courts, fabricated charges... all these measures of reprisal have been used in a coordinated campaign since last Spring to silence ACPRA's human rights activists.

Alkarama condemns in the strongest possible terms the Saudi authorities' clear attempt at using the judiciary to silence one of its most eloquent and fervent critics, and supports the CIHRS's call for 'strong and decisive action by the Council and the UN' against any act of reprisal.