Saudi Arabia: Prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammad Al-Qahtani placed in solitary confinement


Update: Saudi Arabia: On 19 December 2018 Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani was returned from solitary confinement to the general prison population.


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned for the health of prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Fahad Al-Qahtani, who has been placed in solitary confinement in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he is serving a 10-year sentence for his peaceful human rights activities.

Credible reports indicate that at 8:30 pm on 18 December 2018, an officer at Al-Ha’ir criminal prison ordered Dr. Al-Qahtani to be placed in solitary confinement. The order came after a brief discussion and was implemented by a number of soldiers. The Saudi authorities have failed to give any reason for this arbitrary measure.

Dr. Al-Qahtani was recently awarded the 2018 Right Livelihood Award along with Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Waleed Abu Al-Khair, who are also in prison in Saudi Arabia. He co-founded the Association for Civil Rights and Political Rights (ACPRA) along with Dr. Al-Hamid. ACPRA’s goal was to report on human rights violations, and help families of detainees held without charge or trial to bring cases against the Ministry of Interior before an administrative court.

Dr. Al-Qahtani was also a professor at the Diplomatic Studies Institute, which is 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 and writer, who has written for numerous Saudi newspapers, and has been banned from writing several times by the Saudi authorities.

On 09 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced Dr. Al-Hamid and Dr. Al-Qahtani to prison on 12 charges including setting up an unlicensed organisation (namely ACPRA), "refusing to submit to the will of the King", "inciting public disorder" and "communicating with foreign entities." Despite the opportunity to appeal, both human rights defenders were immediately imprisoned.

Dr. Al-Qahtani received a ten-year sentence and Dr. Al-Hamid received a five-year sentence, in addition to being ordered to serve a previous six-year sentence for which he was pardoned in 2004. Both men were also banned from travelling for 10 and 11 years respectively following the end of their prison terms. For more info, see:

GCHR believes that the imprisonment and mistreatment of Dr. Al-Qahtani and Dr. Al-Hamid is directly related to their peaceful human rights work and the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression. The move to put Dr. Al-Qahtani in solitary confinement comes amid disturbing reports of the torture and abuse of women human rights defenders who were arrested in 2018 during a wide-ranging crackdown on rights defenders, leading to the arrest of over 20 human rights defenders and the ongoing detention without trial of at least 17 human rights defenders, most of whom are women.

GCHR urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all the charges against Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, and free them from prison, along with all unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders;
  2. Immediately return Dr. Al-Qahtani to the general prison population and cease using solitary confinement as a punishment, which violations the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
  3. 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 the Saudi authorities 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 09 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 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.