UN concerned about the arbitrary arrest of 7 human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia
Translation and editing by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, April 20, 2021
UN experts have expressed concern about the alleged arbitrary arrest, detention and sentencing of seven Saudi human rights defenders and others on charges related to terrorism and national security concerns.
The UN memorandum, which was issued on February 16, 2021, included the names of the prominent religious scholar Salman al-Awdah, known for his advocacy for greater respect for human rights within the framework of Islamic Sharia law. He was arrested on September 9, 2017, under article 5 of the Terrorist Crimes and their Financing Act (2013). He has been charged with 37 offences, and prosecutors have sought the death penalty in his case.
Mohammad Abdullah al-Otaibi and Abdulla Madhi al-Attawi:
The memo also listed the names of two Saudi human rights defenders, Muhammad Abdullah al-Otaibi, who is known for his advocacy for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, including freedom from arbitrary detention, and defender Abdullah Madhi al-Attawi, known for his work in defence of freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. In April 2013, they jointly co-founded the Union for Human Rights- an organization dedicated to the promotion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments in Saudi Arabia.
The memorandum also included the case of human rights defender Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is the founder of the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). On March 9, 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for, among other issues, providing false information to outside sources, including the United Nations Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms.
The memo also mentioned the case of Salah al-Haidar, a journalist and writer with dual nationality (Saudi and American), who has been outspoken on social media in support of human rights defenders in the Kingdom, and he is the son of the human rights activist, Aziza Al-Youssef, who was arrested on April 4, 2019.
The memo mentioned the prominent human rights activist, Loujain Al-Hathloul, who is known for her work promoting women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, including through campaigns to allow women to drive and to demand freedom of movement. She was arrested at her home in Riyadh on May 15, 2018.
The memorandum also drew attention to the case of the human rights activist, Mayaa al-Zahrani, who opposed the arrest and detention of women human rights defenders in the Kingdom and was arrested on June 9, 2018.
In their memo, the experts expressed their concern about these alleged arbitrary arrests, long-term pre-trial detention of these human rights defenders, and harsh sentences against them while reiterating deep concern over the Saudi authorities’ continued use of national security and counterterrorism laws to restrict the right to freedom of expression and silence the dissenting voices of civil society.
– UN demands from the Saudi authorities:
The experts called on the Saudi authorities to provide information about the repeated postponements in the trial of Salman al-Awdah, as well as information on measures taken to provide the highest attainable level of physical and mental health protection measures during his detention, and information about allegations regarding his incommunicado detention between May and September 2020.
Concerning the cases of human rights defenders Mohammad Abdullah al-Otaibi and Abdulla Madhi al-Attawi, the experts asked the Saudi authorities to provide information on the factual grounds used in their convictions, the reason for the issuance of an additional sentence against al-Otaibi on December 1, 2020, and information regarding the measures taken to ensure Al-Otaibi’s access to medication necessary to manage his high blood pressure while in prison.
Regarding Mohammad al-Qahtani, the experts called on the Saudi authorities to provide information about any restrictions placed on him in contacting members of his family while serving his sentence, as well as any restrictions on accessing any items sent to him in prison.
With regard to Salah al-Haidar, the experts called on Saudi Arabia to provide information about the charges against him, their legal and factual bases, as well as information about his incommunicado detention for one month following his arrest, and that he was subsequently held in solitary confinement for approximately three months, during which time he was allegedly denied access to necessary medical care.
As for the two human rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani, the experts asked the Saudi authorities for information about the charges that were brought against them, and how these charges fell under the jurisdiction of the Specialized Criminal Court and how their trial confirmed with Saudi Arabia’s international human rights obligations.
In the conclusion of their memorandum, the experts called on the Saudi authorities to provide information about the aforementioned individuals’ access to legal aid of their choice, how to confidentially contact with their legal advisor, how to guarantee their right to defence and how their right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defence was implemented.
-The response of the Saudi authorities to the UN demands
On April 15, 2021, the Saudi authorities sent a letter requesting an extension of the 60-day deadline granted to them to submit an objective response.