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Written by HRDs and Journalists
Saudi Arabia- Report: Authorities continue to target NGOs by means of imprisonment and judicial harassment
The Saudi authorities continue to target members of the Association for Civil and Political Rights(ACRPA) by means of imprisonment, travel bans and judicial harassment.
On 9 March 2013, the Penal Court in Riyad issued its decision for the immediate dissolution of the ACRPA, suspending all its activities and confiscating its funds under the pretence that the Association did not acquire a Governmental License. This decision formed part of a systematic policy of repression against the ACRPA that has continued for several years with the aim of stopping the Association’s activities in defence of the civil and human rights of the country’s population.
A. The ACRPA and its members have been subjected to harassment on numerous previous occasions, as outlined below:
1. Fawzan Al-Harbi, founding member and Acting president of the ACRPA
On 22 May 2012, at approximately 11:30 pm, having received his boarding ticket, Fawzan Al-Harbi was stopped by the authorities in order to inspect his passport and he was led to another room where an officer took his passport to examine it. After 15 minutes, the immigration officer informed him that he was not allowed to travel and that he must return to his home.
On 6 May 2013, Fawzan Al-Harbi received a phone call from the Rawda police station regarding a summons issued by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Riyad. The summons asserted that he had to present himself in front of the aforementioned Bureau on 11 May 2013 which he duly did. He also attended many subsequent hearings.
Following a break in the investigation hearings, Fawzan Al-Harbi was notified on 10 July 2013 that the 7th hearing would be held on 15 July 2013 and the 8th and last hearing would be held on 17 July 2013 where the investigation was to be terminated. Despite this, the investigator notified Fawzan Al-Harbi that he will be summoned again if required. The investigation concentrated on the ACRPA’s statements and Fawzan Al Harbi’s twitter account as well as his human rights activities.
At the end of the investigation hearings, Fawzan Al Harbi was told to sign a pledge to terminate ACRPA and for him not to perform any legal practice or else he would be referred to the court, as his colleagues Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani, had been. The human rights defender refused to sign the pledge and confirmed that the ACRPA would continue unless the verdict acquires final judicial approval and he stated that he would not throw away his right to defend human rights.
On 29 July 2013 the human rights defender received a phone call from the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Riyad requiring him to appear before it on 30 July 2013 at 12:30. Upon his arrival, a new investigation was opened. He was interrogated about new statements issued by ACRPA which were not referred to in the previous investigation hearings. The human rights defender has been informed that the new investigation is being kept open. It is expected that he will be summoned for interrogation immediately after any new statement issued by the ACRPA.
2. Abdulaziz Al-Shibli, founding Member
Human rights defender, Abdulaziz Al-Shibli ,continues to be subjected to harassment and threats of imprisonment due to his membership of ACRPA and his activities in the field of human rights, in particular his defence of some women who were arrested as a result of exercising their civil rights through peaceful protest. Abdulaziz Al-Shibli has acted as the attorney in law of Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khoder in his trial and was arrested by the police on claims that he defamed them. He was taken to the police station for investigation in relation to these claims and was subsequently released on bail.
3. Omar Al-Saeed, University Student, Supporting Member
On 16 April 2013, Omar Al-Saeed was called for investigation by the General Investigation Service (The Secret Police) but refused to attend due to the fact that only the Public Prosecution and the Investigation Authority are competent to investigate pursuant to the law. On 21 April 2013 he was called by the Investigation Authority and the Public Prosecution to appear before them on 28 April 2013 for investigation, and he abstained from cooperation with the investigation when his lawyers were not allowed to attend the hearing, depriving him of his right before the law A decision was issued to arrest him.
On 8 June 2013, his brother and lawyer Abedallah Saeed visited him in prison in Buraidah . He was informed about the continued targeting of Omar Al-Saeed by means of defamation by the investigator who blackmailed the human rights defender during the investigation by way of not allowing him to sit his final university exams. He also informed his brother that they put him in solitary confinement for 30 days.
On 10 June 2013, Omar Al-Saeed was presented before judge Issa Bin Abedallah Al-Matroudi, the Buraidah Court judge, without his lawyers being informed in order to execute the hearing in secret. The defendant objected and refused to answer the questions directed at him in protest at the secrecy of the trial which led the judge to postpone the hearing to 11 July 2013. The hearing was postponed again without notice to his lawyers to 18 July 2013 and was held.
However, before the hearing, the defendant was subjected to physical harassment by one of the prisoners in an attempt to break his spirit. The defence team presented a memorandum to the court in respond to the charges against him. The following hearing took place on 18 August 2013 in which the defendant refused to answer the questions directed to him by the judge in protest for not giving him the right to consult with his defence team who were placed in the court room away from him during the hearing in order to separate them. Such separation is in direct contravention of Saudi law. The hearing was postponed to an unknown date.
A number of alleged charges were made against Omar Al-Saeed , including "calling the Governing System, arbitrary, repressive, a police state , oppressive and racial”, “ attempts to incite the public opinion against the security services calling the latter, repressive, torturer and terrorist” and “the membership and support of the suspected and un-licensed ACRPA and its support to which a verdict was issued towards its illegitimacy and its dissolution.”
4. Sheikh Suliaman Al-Rashudi , 76 years old, Lawyer and former Judge, President of ACRPA
Prominent human rights defender, lawyer and former judge, and head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) Sheikh Suliaman Al-Rashudi has a long history in calling for political and human rights reform. He was one of the founders of the Legitimate Rights Defense Committee in 1993, for which he was detained for 2 months and his law practice was closed for 10 years.
On the morning of Wednesday, 12 December 2012, Sheikh Suliaman Al-Rashudi, was arrested as he was on his way to the Al-Qassim region. According to some reports, he was taken to the detention centre at "Naif Academy for Security Sciences" located in the east of Riyadh city. The arrest came hours after the publication on 10 December 2012 of a lecture given by Sheikh Al-Rashoudi entitled "the rule of demonstrations and sit-ins in Islamic law" in which he explained the legality of peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins to claim confiscated rights.
Sheikh Al-Rashudi was arrested several times in the past, including his arrest on 2 February 2007, by officials from the Directorate of General Investigations (DGI) in Jeddah, together with eight other advocates of reform and defense of civil rights who have been named "Reformists of Jeddah". He spent nearly five years in continued detention during which he was transferred between prisons in Jeddah. On 22 June 2011, Sheikh Al-Rashudi was been released on bail.
The nine detainees including Sheikh Al-Rashudi were convicted of alleged involvement in, forming a secret organization, attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering. On 22 November 2011 the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh handed out on the nine prominent advocates of reform prison sentences ranging from five to 30 years. Suliaman Al-Rashudi was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and 15 years’ travel ban to take effect following his release.
Although the case was at the appeal stage in the very same court, the Saudi Interior Ministry used the verdict as a pretext to arrest Sheikh Salman Al-Rashudi and imprison him. He was later transferred to the Al Haer Prison in Riyadh where he was stripped of his visitation rights for two months during which time he was put in solitary confinement. During this time, the investigation focused on his lecture on the "Legitimacy of Demonstrations in Islam". He was subsequently allowed to be visited by his family. The Competent Penal Appeal Court ratified the verdict hence becoming final after less than 2 months of his arrest.
5. Mohammed Saleh Al-Bajadi, founding member
On 19 September 2012, Mohammed Saleh Al-Bajadi, the human rights defender, prisoner and one of the founding members of ACRPA, started a hunger strike for the third time in protest against his maltreatment and that of his prison mates and their seclusion from the outside world. He wasn’t permitted to call his family until 3 July 2013 when he spoke to his wife and children to inform them that he was in good health. His family managed to visit him only on 7 July 2013.
He had been detained without a trial on 4 of September 2007 till 01 January 2008 on the accusation of aiding a group of family members of women who were detained, to protest legally in front of the Emirate building in Buraidah in the Al-Qassim region.
In December 2010 he contributed to the publicizing of the death by torture of a resident from Yemen, Sultan Al-Daees, in the Altareef Prison in the Al-Qassim Region. He also talked to the media about the case and became a target for prosecution and harassment by the security authorities.
On 20 March 2011, in front of the Ministry of the Interior in Riyadh, he took part in a rally of the families of the prisoners who had been detained without arrest warrants. The security authorities used his participation as an excuse to arrest him at his home in the city of Buraidah the following day. He was isolated from the outside world and was not allowed to be visited by his family four months.
His trial was carried out secretly in August 2011 at the Competent Penal Court. Despite the defendant’s protest at the legitimacy of the trial the secretive trial continued presided over by judge Abedallateef Al-Abedallateef.
On 10 April 2012, a verdict was issued for the imprisonment of Mohammad Al Bajady for 4 years and a travel ban was imposed on him for another 5 years after his release. The charges of which he was allegedly found guilty include :
1. The contribution to the foundation of a human rights organization (intended ACRPA)
2. Harming the image of the state through the media (in reference to the case of the resident from Yemen Sultan Al-Daees)
3. Contesting the independence of the judiciary.
4. calling on the families of detainees to demonstrations and sit-ins.
5. Being in possession of banned books .(Books he bought from the Book International Exhibition in Riyad)
Despite the passing of 2 years since the issuance of the verdict, it remains preliminary and was not ratified by the Appeal Court. It is worth mentioning that the Public Prosecution was the one who appealed the verdict demanding a more severe punishment whereas the defendant did not recognize the court and has not yet received the verdict as yet.
On 6 August 2013 at 4am, the human rights defender was released from Hai'r prison. The authorities did not explain to him if his release is temporary or permanent. He was released without being allowed to get his personal belongings, including his phone. However, he has been able to return to his family in the city of Buraidah.
In the days that followed his release, the authorities called his brothers several times to ask them to go to Altarafiah political prison to sign the release papers. They did so without being informed if the release was temporarily or permanently.
On 15 August 2013, after receiving several calls from the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution requesting him to appear before it, he went there and has not been released yet.
6. Saleh Al-Ashwan, supporting Member
On 7 July 2012, Saleh Al-Ashwan, supporting member of ACRPA, was arrested. He is still being detained in Hai'r Prison in Riyadh despite the passing of 6 months which is the maximum duration of preventive detention as stated by the Saudi Laws for detention of the accused (pursuant to Article 114 of Law of Criminal Procedures). He remains in detention and has not been released or brought to trial.
He was targeted by the Security Authorities due to his activity in the monitoring of human rights violations and his defense of detainees and support for their families as well as for his monitoring of the conditions of the Saudi detainees in the Iraqi Prisons.
Lawyer Abedalaziz Al-Husan was appointed officially to his defense, and subsequently he asked the investigator to meet his client and to be present during the investigation. However, the Branch of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (Public Prosecution) in Riyadh denied his demands to meet with his client and to view the case file. The lawyer was then told that Saleh Al-Ashwan and the case file were forwarded to the General Investigation and the Branch had no more involvement with the case.
Saleh Al-Ashwan was then subjected at the Criminal Investigation Headquarters (Police) to torture, beatings and maltreatment especially from the Officer Btahan Al-Qahtani who works for the Criminal Investigation Unit. At the beginning of July 2013, he was transferred to Thahban prison in Jeddah where he was presented to the Specialized Penal Court. The judge proclaimed that the case of Saleh is not within his competence lies within the remit of the Penal Court in Riyadh. However the authorities informed the defendant’s brother when meeting them in Jeddah that the case is within its competence but lacks some documents and would be transferred to the investigation authorities to complete the file of the case.
7. Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani, founding members
Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid is a founding member of the ACRPA , and acquired his doctorate from the Al-Azhar University. He is a thinker, human rights defender and was a university instructor for Arab Literature at the Imam Mohammad Bin Soud Islamic University before his removal from his post in the mid 1990s due to his human rights activities. He was one of the founders of the Legitimate Rights Defense Committee in 1993. He was arrested and jailed 7 times and one of his noteworthy arrests was at the formation of the Legitimate Rights Defense Committee in 1993 where he was jailed for a few months. He was arrested in 2004 for being one of the three reformers who were arrested and brought to trial due to their demands for a constitutional monarchy. Their imprisonment lasted for around 2 years and they were then released through clemency. He was arrested again in 2008 and was sentenced to six months in prison on accusation related to the organization of a demonstration for the detainees family members without getting a legal permission.
Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani is also a founding member of ACRPA, a professor at the Diplomatic Studies Institute, part of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and acquired his doctorate from the American University of Indiana. He is a thinker, human rights defender, writer, and has written for numerous Saudi newspapers. He was banned from writing several times by the Saudi authorities. In November 2012 he was nominated by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the 100 prominent thinkers in the world.
On 9 March 2013 the eleventh hearing of the trial of leading human rights defenders, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al Qahtani, the co-founders ACPRA, was held at the Criminal Court in Riyadh, during which the presiding judge Hammad Al-Omar issued the following sentences and provisions:
1. Five years in prison for Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamed in addition to the 6 year sentence that he did not serve earlier in 2004 after a pardon, for allegedly breaching the conditions of his release. Although, Dr. Al-Hamed pointed out that the pardon was not conditional and he did not sign any declaration. This brings the total sentence to eleven years.
2. 10 years in prison for Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani.
3. Preventing the defendants from travelling after the expiration of the term of imprisonment for duration equal to the number of years in prison for each one of them.
The issuance of these sentences and provisions came after Dr. Al-Hamid and Dr Al-Qahtani were convicted of 12 alleged charges including "Refusing to submit to the will of the King", "Incitement" and "Communicating with foreign entities." Although, the verdict was preliminary and could be appealed, the judge decided to imprison the two human rights defenders.
The persistent targeting of the defendants is shown by the continuous harassment even while they were in prison, where Dr. Al-Qahtani was called by the Hai'r Penal Prison Administration on 25 July 2013 and was informed that he will be separated from Dr. Al-Hamid and transferred to another wing. When he objected, he was told that this decision was taken by the higher authorities. He insisted on objecting to the arbitrary decision and was put in solitary confinement. As a result he went on hunger strike for 24 hours after which he was returned his return to the same wing as Dr. Al Hamid but to a different cell. Their lawyer was prevented from visiting them on 29 July 2013 and both human rights defenders were told to choose different lawyers and to stop working with the same defence team. However, they refused to sign any document to that effect and confirmed that their case is one as the verdict includes 50 joint pages and as such it is logical for them to have the same lawyer and they insisted of on working with the defence team.
8. Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khoder, founding member
Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khoder is a founding member of ACRPA and professor of comparative Jurisprudence literature at the University of Al Al-Qassim. He was banned from teaching due to his work in the field of human rights and his activity with ACRPA. He has produced research and articles which analyzed the official discourse as being anti-democratic and anti-human rights. Therefore he was targeted by the security authorities who requested him to abstain from his human rights work which he categorically refused to do.
In Buraidah, he faced trial at the Penal Court, the hearings of which started on 11 February 2013 and were presided over by judge Ibrahim Al-Hassny who ordered him to four months detention on 24 April 2013. The sentencing took place at the fourth hearing when the judge refused entry of women to the court. Such a restriction led to the refusal by the human rights defender to enter the court and consequently the judge ordered his arrest. He remains in detention at Buraidah Public Prison.
On 24 June 2013, the Penal Court in Buraidah issued the verdict of imprisonment of Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khoder to 8 years in prison, to include a five-year suspended sentence and a travel ban for 10 years. He was indicted on alleged charges of disobedience of the ruler, instigation to cause chaos through the organization of protests and demonstrations, tarnishing of the state image by publishing false information and distributing it to foreign organizations, and the collaboration in the founding of a non licensed Association (ACRPA). He has been continuously harassed in prison and subjected to verbal abuse by the other prisoners.
9. Members of the ACRPA who are prevented from travelling and have been subjected to Arbitrary Arrest or Investigation and Trial
The list below includes members of ACRPA who have been prevented from travelling outside of the Saudi Kingdom and have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, investigation and trial at any time:
Dr. Abeda-l rahman Hamid Al -Hamid
Issa Hamid Al-Hamid
Saoud Ahmad Al-Daghayther
Abdualla Mohammad Al-Saeed
B. The Administrative Court Refusal of the Registration of the Justice Center for Human Rights
After more than a year and a half of continuous attempts to register Adala (Justice) Centre for Human Rights, which included 13 Appeal hearings at the Administrative Court in Al -Dammam City, on 7 July 2013 the Court issued its decision on the refusal of the registration of the Centre, on the grounds that the Center’s objectives were incompatible with the Charitable Associations and Organizations Law to No. 107 of year 1990 issued by the Cabinet. This aforementioned refusal had the consequence of putting an end to all the Center’s peaceful activities in the field of human rights. On 7 July 2013, the Center filed an appeal against the decision at the Administrative Appeal Court in the Eastern Region.
The activists unofficially founded Adala, on 10 December 2011 to coincide with International Human Rights Day. A letter announcing its foundation was sent to senior government officials including King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Naif bin Abdulazizn as well as to the official Human Rights Commission and the National Society for Human Rights.
Adala’s objectives include, monitoring and documenting human rights cases, providing information to citizens and immigrants on their legal and human rights, and promoting a culture of respect for human rights in Saudi society. Adala intends to rely on the principles of international human rights laws, regional conventions, and relevant national legislation to govern its work and activities.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the targeting of the members of ACRPA by imprisonment and the imposition of travel bans, judicial harassments, and the refusal to grant a permit to register the Justice for Human Rights Center as a non-governmental institution, are all direct attempts by the Saudi authorities to prevent legal and peaceful activities in defence of human rights in the Kingdom. The GCHR sees the decision to refuse granting of licenses to human rights organizations as a continuation of the trend of the targeting of human rights defenders by the Saudi government.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights urges the authorities of the Arab Saudi Kingdom to:
1 – Release all human rights defenders including members of ACRPA, drop all the charges directed against them promptly and unconditionally, as they have been targeted as a result of their peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights.
2 – Reverse the decision to dissolve the ACRPA as it is performing peaceful and legitimate activities such as the writing of reports of human rights violations and supporting families of detainees.
3 – Affirm the cancellation of the decision rejecting the grant of the registration permit to the Justice for Human Rights Center, and guarantee to give the permit immediately to enable it to execute its peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of Human Rights.
4 – Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The GCHR respectfully reminds the authorities in Saudi Arabia that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.
We also wish to draw your attention in particular to Article 5 (b), which states:
Article 5(b) “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels:(b)To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” and to article 6(c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.”