Two prominent Saudi Human Rights Defenders heavily sentenced

March 12, 2013


Last Saturday, two distinguished human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia were sentenced to jail in Riyadh for establishing an unlicensed human rights organization. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Abdullah Al-Hamad (or Hamid) established the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) in 2009. The organization’s mission is to promote human rights awareness within the Kingdom. ACPRA called for political representation of Saudi citizens and creation of laws to protect minorities. The organization also worked on documenting human rights abuses within the Kingdom. Despite multiple efforts to license ACPRA, the organization’s petitions were rejected and the group was eventually banned by Saudi authorities. The two men were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison on accusations including the rather illiberal sounding “breaking allegiance to the King”, “disseminating false information through foreign entities” and “forming an unlicensed organization“. This trial and the ensuing heavy sentence are clearly linked to them exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and association.
ACPRA is the most active organization in Saudi Arabia documenting cases of human rights violations, this will have a grave effect on the information available to international organisations and the United Nations” said Karim Sayad, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf at Alkarama “But it’s a great loss for the Saudis more than it is for the international organisations. In the last few months, we’ve seen demonstrations against arbitrary detention are multiplying… Instead of taking this opportunity to reform, they have made it worse“.

All founders of ACPRA have been subjected to reprisals for their human rights activities over the past few years. Suleiman Al Rashoudi, a 78-year-old lawyer and president of ACPRA, was arrested on 12 December 2012 for having publicly stated that the right of assembly and association was a right internationally recognized. Mohamed Al-Bjady, another co-founder of the Saudi NGO was sentenced by the Special criminal court of Riyadh on 10 April 2012 to 4 years in prison after unfair trial held in camera on the grounds of having co-founded a human rights organization and encouraged families of political prisoners to undermine the reputation of the state and the independence of the judiciary.

Before leaving the court room, the two human rights defenders stated on 9 March: “Our trial illustrates the absence of independence of our judicial system that we have been denouncing over the years”. They said they considered it as an “award” as it illustrates the arbitrary nature of the Saudi judiciary system which sends thousands of innocent individuals to prison solely for having expressed their opinions.

Al Qahtani and Al Hamad were transferred after the trial to Al-Malaz prison, Riyadh. Their defense lawyer has 30 days to appeal the sentence.

[Al-Hamad was sentenced to five years in prison as well as being ordered to serve an additional six years from a previous prison sentence of which he had been pardoned by Saudi King Abdullah in 2006.]

Muftah » Saudi Human Rights Defenders Sentenced to Jail.

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