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Saudi Arabia: Systematic targeting of members of ACPRA in addition to other human rights defenders

2014-09-21

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The power to change laws and policies are controlled by the King in consultation with appointed officials including the Minister of Interior. Political parties, non-governmental organizations or civil societies, protests, sit-in, and all forms of expressions are prohibited and punishable by law. Penal code is non-codified and the legal system often shaped with cruel and inhumane punishments.  Over the years, public demands of constitutional monarchy and a reform in human rights were futile.

The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) was established on 12 October 2009 to promote civil and political rights and to respond to the increased arrests following the second Gulf war.  Through several activities ranging from open letters and petitions, community outreach events, and direct communications with the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia, the society aimed o document human rights violations, increase the awareness of civil and political rights, empower the marginalized and vulnerable populations, and promote the framework of human rights as a compatible concept with Islamic principles.  

A couple of years after its foundation, ACPRA members were targeted by the authorities on charges of inciting public dissents and paragraph one of article six in the information technology crimes law has been used to justify charges against ACPRA members. The article paragraph states that "an individual who participate in whatever might touches on the public order, religious values, public morals, or the privacy of individuals whether by preparing the contents, sending them, or storing them via the internet or on a computer will be punished by no more than five years imprisonment and penalized by no more than three millions Saudi Riyals or by one of these sentences"[1]. In addition, ta'azir, or deciding a penalty by the religious judge as he deems appropriate has been applied to justify the lengthy imprisonment, lashing, and travel bans applied in sentencing ACPRA members for their peaceful activities. Judges frequently cite religious edicts and supreme scholars' statements to criminalize all forms of public display of opinions and considered them prohibited by Islam as they claim.  All trials of the members took place at the Specialized Criminal Court assigned to cases of terror-related crimes.

Below is an overview of the fate of the eleven members of ACPRA to date:

Dr. Sulaiman Al-Rashudi, is a 77 years old ex-judge and a lawyer. He joined ACPRA in 2009 while serving a lengthy prison sentence for his participation in petitions to demand political reforms. He was a member of the Committee to Defend Legitimate Rights in 1993, and was arrested, detained for two months, banned from travel for five years and his law office was closed for ten years. In 2004, he was arrested for participating in a letter requesting constitutional reforms. In 2007, he was arrested and detained with other reformists from Jeddah for meetings aimed to establish a civil society for political and constitutional reform[2].

In 2011 he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison followed by another fifteen years of travel ban. He was subjected to incommunicado detention for two months and currently spends his sentence at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh

Mohammed Al-Bajadi is a founding member and a human rights defender who is 34 years old. He was arrested repeatedly in 2005 and 2007 to 2008 for advocacy to prevent arbitrary arrests and torture. His last arrest in March 2011 to date is thought to be triggered by his attempt to arrange an independent investigation and communication with the UN on the case of Sultan Al-Daees, a Yemeni prisoner, whose death was suspected as due to torture while being interrogated by the general investigations department officers. Al-Bajadi was accused of joining an unlicensed civil society organization, defaming the country's reputation, questioning the independence of the judicial system, acquisition of banned books, organizing a protest by the families of the prisoners, supporting the revolutions in Bahrain, and communication with foreign organizations. He was tried at the Specialized Criminal Court without prior notification or access to his lawyers. On April 2012, he was sentenced to four years in prison and a travel ban for five years afterwards. Al-Bajadi has gone through several hunger strikes in objection of the mistreatment and a four months of solitary confinement. On 15 August 2013, the Court of Appeals repealed his earlier sentences but no trial date has been set to date. Currently, he spends his fourth year at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, a founding member and a well-known human rights defender. In 1992 with a group of concerned citizens, Al-Hamid established the Committee to Defend Legitimate Rights, but the authorities have dissolved it, expelled the members from their jobs and imprisoned them. Later, he was imprisoned for several periods due to his advocacy for a constitutional monarchy. After one year of trials, Al-Hamid was accused on 10 April 2013 of thirteen charges including promotion of peaceful protests, inciting against the ruler (Waly al-amr) and the supreme scholars, causing a public disorder and unrest, false testimonies to foreign organizations, establishing an unlicensed civil society organization, and calling to break allegiance to the Minister of interior (prince Nayef).  On 9 March 2013, the judge at the Criminal Court in Riyadh ordered the dissolution of ACPRA organization and confiscation of all its properties, five years imprisonment of Al-Hamed in addition of another six years from a previous sentence for violating the pledge not to pursue any further activities. Moreover, He was sentenced to ten years travel ban following his release. Al-Hamid is currently spending the second year of his sentence at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh. He went on hunger strikes several times to object the poor standards of hygiene, improper ward placement, inadequate healthcare access and poor diet.

Likewise, Dr. Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani, is a political economy professor and a founding member of APCRA. He  was charged on 15 June 2012 with eleven charges including inciting dissent and breaking allegiance with the ruler, questioning the integrity of the officials and the supreme scholars, inciting public opinions against the government by accusations of violating the human rights, accusing the judicial and legal system of lack of independence and question their integrity,  antagonizing the international organizations against the Saudi government by disseminating false information, utilizing the United Nations mechanisms to file legal claims against Saudi officials and using the internet to disseminate opinions, petitions, and statement against the government. On 9 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced him to ten years in prison followed by another ten years of travel ban. Al-Qahtani is currently serving his second year at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh.

Dr. Abdulkarim Yousif Al-Khoder, is a professor of comparative jurisprudence in the Islamic studies college in Al-Qassim and a founding member of ACPRA. During his fourth trial in April 2014 he objected the judge's refusal to allow women, including his wife, into the court room, and the judge ordered his arrest in response. In June 2014, the court found Al-Khoder guilty on charges of inciting the public against the ruler, calling for protests, participation in unlicensed civil society organization, breaking allegiance with the ruler, and communicating with foreign agencies on the violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment followed by another ten years of travel ban. In addition he was sentenced of five years imprisonment if he violated a conditional early release by continuing his activities. The higher court acquitted him from all charges but the case was referred to the specialized criminal court for re-trial. Al-Khoder is spending his second year of imprisonment at Buraidah prison. In 2010, his 23 years old son, Thamer, was detained without charges or trials for six months. His family reported him being subjected to beating during interrogation.  

Fowzan Al-Harbi,[3] is a founding member of ACPRA, a young engineer and a human rights defender. He represented the other members of ACPRA during their trials and participated in the promotion of human rights activities. His first trial was in December 2013, after which, he was detained for six months at the over-crowded Al-Malaz prison without assigned bed/space to sleep. He was released in June 2014 on a pledge not to resume his activities. A standing charge of seven years imprisonment for violating the law of information technology crimes would apply if he did not refrain from all online means of communication with the public followed by a travel ban of an equal duration to his imprisonment term. He is currently banned from travel.

Abdulrahman Al-Hamid,[4] is a founding member of ACPRA and a professor of Islamic economy at the technical college in Buraidah. He was summoned on April 2014 for interrogation to the criminal investigation department and notified of an arrest warrant by the general bureau of interrogation and prosecution. His arrest came after signing a petition with other activists calling for a trial of the Minister of interior for violations of human rights. In May 2014, he was reportedly transferred to the Buraidah general prison in a ward of drug-related crimes.[5]

Essa Al-Hamid, is a founding member and the current head of ACPRA organization. He was summoned to the interrogation and prosecution department of Al-Qassim on 21 November 2013. He underwent seven trial sessions until 14 January 2014. He was asked by the police to bring another person to bail him in March 2014.

Muhanna Mohammed Al-Faleh, a founding member of ACPRA and a human rights defender from Aljouf. He was one of the signatories to several open letters requesting reforms and adoption of human rights framework. He died of a heart attack on June 2011.

Saleh Al-Ashwan, is a member of ACPRA, who was among the first to raise the case of Saudi citizens imprisoned in Iraq. He was arrested in July 2012 to date without trial or access to lawyers. He is currently detained at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh.

 Omar Mohammed Al-Saeed[6], is a member of ACPRA who is only 23 years old, arrested on 16 April 2013 and accused of several charges including breaking allegiance with the ruler, joining an unlicensed civil society, inciting public opinion against officials, questioning the supreme scholars and the judiciary, and taking photos of protests and posting them online to spread rumors and false news. He was tried without access to his lawyer and sentenced to four years in prison and 300 lashes. He was reportedly beaten by an inmate and infected with a disease causing hair loss due to poor standards of hygiene while in detention. He is currently spending his second year of his sentence in a prison ward designated for drug-related crimes at Buraidah criminal prison.

Abdulaziz Al-Shubaili, is a member of ACPRA. He was summoned to Al-Qassim's prosecution and interrogation department on 18th November 2013 and interrogated in four sessions. He was asked to bring someone to bail him in January 2014.

Conclusions:

The charges against APRA members violate Saudi Arabia's commitment to the international declaration of human rights and to the Arab charter of human rights, both guarantee the rights of people to self determination and to freedom of expression by all peaceful means. The persistence of using judiciary, religious interpretation and legal measure to apprehend human rights defenders and to quiet their claims for human rights is a threat to peace and security of the region. Furthermore, the blockade on all forms of peaceful dissents and the criminalization of calls of reforms drive people to extreme measures and fuels violence.  

Recommendations: 

The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that  the targeting of the members of   ACRPA and other human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia by imprisonment and the imposition of travel bans, judicial harassments, and the refusal to grant a  permit to register to human rights NGOS such as Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and Adala Center for Human Rights as non-governmental institutions, 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.

We urge the international community to promote the human rights approach, particularly in regions of political unrest, and to support the unconditional release of all of ACPRA members and other peaceful human rights defenders such as Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Raef Badawi, and to guarantee that their peaceful work is respected and protected both in laws and in practice.   

The GCHR urges the authorities of the Arab Saudi Kingdom to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders without charges or reservations.
  2. Allow ACPRA and other NGOs to continue their civil society work to support the families of the detainees and promote human rights;
  3. Grant the registration permit to ACPRA, MHRSA and Adala Center for Human Rights; licensing of human rights should be allowed to enable the members to continue their 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 that:

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;”