Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia-Attempt by authorities to silence human rights defenders through on-going judicial harassment
Beirut, 18 June 2012 -- The Gulf Centre for Human Rights has received information concerning the on-going judicial harassment of human rights defenders Dr Mohammed bin Fahd Al Qahtani, Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, Mukhlif Al-Shammari and Waleed Abu AlKhair. The human rights defenders reportedly face baseless charges in an attempt to hinder their human rights work and to silence their calls for reform and respect for human rights.
Dr Mohammed bin Fahd Al Qahtani
On 18 June 2012, the first session in the trial of human rights defender and founding member
of the Association for Civil Rights and Political Rights (ACPRA) Dr. Mohammed bin
Fahd Al-Qahtani was held in the criminal court in Riyadh. Approximately thirty human rights activists reportedly attended the hearing. The Attorney General, Muhammad Bin Fawzan
Fawzan, read the list of eleven activism-related charges that have been brought against Dr Al-Qahtani. The charges include setting up an unlicensed organisation, understood to be ACPRA,
accusing the judiciary of allowing torture and accepting confessions made under duress, inciting public opinion by accusing authorities of human rights violations, and turning international organizations against the Kingdom.
Dr Al-Qahtani has challenged the legitimacy of the proceedings and argued that the charges and the trial are of a political nature, because they are conducted under orders of the Minister of the Interior. As a result, he claims that the prosecutor can not pursue a criminal investigation except under the direct guidance of the Minister of the Interior.
The court scheduled the next hearing for 1 September 2012, in order that the human rights defenders may respond to the charges.
Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid
On 11 June 2012, prominent human rights defender and founding of Association for Civil Rights and Political Rights (ACPRA), Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid appeared before the criminal court charged with activism-related charges including inciting disorder, including by drafting and publishing a statement calling for protests. ACPRA reports on human rights violations, and helps families of detainees held without charge or trial to bring cases against the Ministry of Interior before an administrative court.
The two-hour hearing was attended by a number of human rights advocates and lawyers. In violation of criminal procedure, the human rights defender was only informed of the hearing one day before when the judge informed his lawyer verbally that the hearing would take place. He did not receive the requisite written notice three days in advance of the hearing in breach of criminal procedure.
Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and his lawyers raised the fact that the case was not randomly referred to a judge by the President of the High Court as per normal court procedure, but was instead referred to a specific judge. They expressed concern that this referral may lead to a direct judgement and could prejudice the integrity of the judiciary.
His lawyers also raised objections to the decision made by the judge to prohibit the publication of the oral deliberations arguing that this decision deprived the defendant of his rights including his right of publicity around the case. However the objection was unsuccessful.
The court scheduled the next hearing to be held on 1 September 2012.
Over the past three months, the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution have investigated, Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, on seven separate occasions. In response to this on-going harassment, two teams of human rights lawyers and others were formed to defend him. One team is responsible for all matters of trial and advocacy before the courts and human rights bodies, and the issuing of data and information. While the other team assists in the presentation of the defence and the plea and includes a number of prominent Saudi human rights defenders.
On 12 June 2012, writer and human rights defender, Mukhlif Al-Shammari appeared for the fourth time before the Special Criminal Court sitting in Jeddah. The human rights defender, who has written extensively on human rights violations and corruption in the country, has challenged the competency of the court to hear the case on the basis that it is not related to matters of state security.
At the first session the prosecution read out a list of charges set out on unofficial paper which included trying to harm the reputation of the Kingdom in international media, communicating with suspect organisations and accusing state organs of corruption. Mukhlif Al-Shammari submitted his response to these charges at the third session, as the second session had been cancelled, and he presented 56 pieces of evidence to support his case. He called on the prosecution to produce evidence to support the charges made against him. At the fourth session Judge Nasser Al Harbi said that the prosecution was not in a position to produce all the evidence and that the evidence could be presented in two parts. The next hearing is scheduled to take place on 3 July 2012.
The GCHR issued an appeal on 10 April 2012 following the imposition of a travel ban on Mukhlif Al-Shammari (http://gc4hr.org/news/view/112).
Waleed Abu AlKhair
On 4 June 2012 human rights defender and lawyer, Waleed Abu AlKhair appeared before the District Court in Jeddah for the first hearing of t public proceedings against him. At the beginning of the hearing the representative of the Attorney General (Muhammad Al-maadi) read out the charges, which include contempt of judicial authority, accusing a judge of corruption, and an attempt to discredit the Kingdom by giving misleading information to foreign human rights organisations.
The human rights defender asked for time to allow him to study the charges. The judge agreed and scheduled the next hearing for 15 July 2012.
Waleed Abu AlKhair has been the target of an on-line smear campaign due to his human rights activities. He was the subject of an appeal issued by the GCHR on 22 March 2012 when ban travel ban was imposed on him. (http://gc4hr.org/news/view/100).
The GCHR expresses concern at the on-going judicial harassment of Dr Mohammed bin Fahd Al Qahtani, Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, Mukhlif Al-Shammari and Waleed Abu AlKhair, which it believes is a directly related to their legitimate, and peaceful human rights work and an attempt to hinder such work. The GCHR expresses further concern at the breach of legal procedure throughout the proceedings against the human rights defenders.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all the charges against Dr Mohammed bin Fahd Al Qahtani, Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, Mukhlif Al-Shammari and Waleed Abu AlKhair as the GCHR believes that they are solely related to their legitimate human rights work;
- 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 1 “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels ” and to Article 12 (1) and (2): “(1) Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (2) 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.”
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights is an independent centre and has been registered in Ireland. The Centre works to strengthen support for human rights defenders and independent journalists in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.