Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: Human rights defender Khalid Al-Omair released after sentence ends while other rights defenders continue to be targeted
Human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair has finally been released more than six months after he finished serving his eight-year sentence, while most other human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia remain in jail or face travel bans and unfair trials on trumped-up charges.
On 12 April 2017, Al-Omair was released after serving his sentence. On 03 November 2016, he 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 had 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.
Meanwhile, the mother of prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani has died. He refused the permission given by authorities to leave prison to participate in her funeral and condolence ceremony. He explained his position by saying, "When my mother was alive, they put me in jail for five years and she was sick for a long time and they only agreed to let me visit her chained and now they want me to visit her remains.”
Dr. Al-Qahtani is a political economy professor and a founding member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). On 15 June 2012, he was accused of 11 charges including allegedly “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 questioning their integrity, antagonising international organisations against the Saudi government by disseminating false information, utilising the United Nations mechanisms to file legal claims against Saudi officials and using the Internet to disseminate opinions, petitions, and statement against the government.” The first hearing of his trial was held at the Criminal Court in Riyadh before Judge Hammad Al-Omar on 18 June 2012. 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 third year at Al-Hayer prison in Riyadh.
Most of the human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are still in prison after trials that have lacked the minimum standards of fair trials and due process on fabricated charges solely related to their peaceful work in the field of human rights in addition to the travel bans imposed on a number of them, including human rights defender Samar Badawi, banned from travel since 02 December 2014.
While the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is pleased for the release of human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair, it 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:
- Release all human rights defenders as well as all prisoners of conscience from prison;
- Protect public freedoms and fulfil the Kingdom's international human rights obligations; and
- Guarantee in all circumstances that 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 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.”