Saudi Arabia: Authorities continue grave violations against human rights defenders
On 30 October 2016, the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia held its first hearing in the trial of human rights defenders, Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi, and Abdullah Al-Attawi.
They were charged with the following:
1. Establishing an association and announcing it before obtaining official authorisation;
2. Participating in preparing and signing petitions and publishing them on the Internet, which harms the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions; and
3. Publishing information about the investigation against them despite their pledge not to publish in order to influence public opinion.
There were also other charges directed against Al-Otaibi, including posting on social media networks allegedly “hostile and offensive Tweets that will prejudice public order,” inciting international human rights organisations against the Kingdom by publishing on social networking sites false reports about the Kingdom, adopting the draft of a constitutional monarchy and his involvement in the hunger strike campaign in solidarity with one of the prisoners of conscience, and his participation in two interviews with a TV channel during which he allegedly insulted the Kingdom and its institutions. The court adjourned the trial until 27 December 2016.
On 16 and 10 March 2014, the investigations started against Al-Attawi and Al-Otaibi respectively before the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) after they announced on 03 April 2013 the establishment of the El-Etihad Association for Human Rights, together with Mohammed Ayeth Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Faisal Badrani. In its first statement, which was published on the same day, they said that El-Etihad aims "to promote the culture of human rights in the Kingdom," "to defend other human rights associations and help them," to start "a campaign to end the death penalty," as well as "to work to strengthen the role of women in society." They have all been investigated before the Public Prosecutor and forced later to sign a pledge to close the association.
The association submitted a proper request to the Ministry of Social Affairs to obtain an official license in March 2013, however the Ministry rejected the request according to its reply dated 12 May 2013, because the request was "not in line with the Associations and Charities Act issued according to the Council of Ministers resolution No. 107 on 22 January 1990."
In another case, on 03 November 2016, human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair was transferred from Al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh to Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Centre in preparation for his release. On 06 October 2016, Al-Omair started a hunger strike which lasted 29 days to protest the failure to release him despite serving the duration of his prison sentence of eight years, as of 05 October 2016.
On 27 December 2008, Al-Omair announced his intention to protest against the blockade and Israeli aggression against Gaza in Palestine. He was arrested on the morning of the following day by security forces before he could start the demonstration. On 15 May 2011, he was sentenced by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh to eight years in prison, with a travel ban for the same period after the completion of his sentence. The court found him guilty of inciting demonstrations and calling for them via the Internet. He was allegedly tortured and ill-treated since his arrest and prior to his trial.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses grave concern about the continuation of serious documented violations against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. GCHR believes that these men have been targeted solely due to exercising their legitimate and peaceful right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression and conducting their work in the field of human rights.
GCHR urges the Saudi Arabian authorities to:
- Revoke the charges against Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi, and Abdullah Al-Attawi and release Khaled Al-Omair immediately without any condition; and
- 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.
GCHR respectfully reminds you 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, recognises 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) which states that: “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.”