Saudi Arabia: Human rights defender Mohammed Al-Otaibi ill-treated in prison


According to information just received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), human rights defender Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi who is serving a 14-year sentence in the General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dhamam, has not been allowed to call his family during the holy month of Ramadan, and is only allowed one visit with his family every 45 days.

Normally, Al-Otaibi was allowed to speak with his family each week, even though he is entitled to a daily telephone call according to the rules. However, he has been prevented from calling his family on weekly basis. These restrictions on family contact violate the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules).

On 25 January 2018, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Al-Otaibi to 14 years in prison and his colleague Abdulla Madhi Al-Attawi to seven years in prison. The SCC upheld both sentences a year ago. It is worth noting that this court was set up in January 2008 to look into cases related to terrorism and state security but was quickly rushed into use to target human rights defenders.

They have been charged, among other things, with the following: participating in setting up a human rights organisation (the Union for Human Rights) and announcing it, prior to obtaining an official permit; preparing and signing petitions and publishing them on the Internet, which harms the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions; publishing information about their interrogation despite signing pledges not to do so; spreading chaos and incited public opinion; re-tweeting a tweet on Twitter after it was published by member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA) and human rights defender Issa Al-Hamed, who is currently in prison.

In April 2013, Al-Otaibi co-founded the Union for Human Rights in Riyadh, whose main objectives were to defend the rights of citizens, spread the culture of human rights, abolish the death penalty, and to strengthen the role of women in society. After 28 days of hard work within this organisation, that included monitoring the trials of human rights defenders and releasing explanatory statements about the hearings, and the publication of appeals on human rights violations, Al-Otaibi was summoned by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Riyadh. He was summoned along with Al-Attawi and the other founding members of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah Faisal Al-Harbi,  and Mohammed Ayeth Al-Otaibi. They were called upon to freeze the work of their organisation in return for their freedom and the promise not to refer the case to trial, which forced them to agree so that they could go and work individually and in their personal capacities.

Despite the closure of their human rights association, the authorities again referred both Al-Otaibi and Al-Attawi to the Specialised Criminal Court on 08 December 2016.

Therefore, Al-Otaibi was forced to leave Saudi Arabia, and arrived in Qatar on 30 March 2017. At dawn, on 28 May 2017, Al-Otaibi was forcibly deported from Qatar to Saudi Arabia after he was arrested on 24 May while on his way to Norway. The Norwegian government had exceptionally agreed to provide him and his wife with two Norwegian travel documents and grant him refugee status as soon as he arrived, after he requested international support following his departure from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. He has been in prison since then.

Al-Otaibi, 50, began his human rights work in Saudi Arabia in1996. He participated in several online forums and discussions between 1999 and 2016. He also signed a number of statements demanding the protection of civil and human rights of citizens, the release of prisoners of conscience and reform between 2006 and 2015. His colleague Abdullah Al-Atawi has also been arrested several times for his hard work to defend the rights of citizens and to protect public freedoms, especially freedom of opinion, expression and freedom of peaceful protest.

For more information on their case please follow the link below:

GCHR condemns in the strongest terms the authorities in Saudi Arabia for continuing to systematically target human rights defenders. We believe that it is a shame that a member state of the UN Human Rights Council has imprisoned two just and courageous human rights defenders for setting up a human rights organisation that operates peacefully according to local and international laws. GCHR calls upon the UN and its member states to remove Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council because its presence on this body is a travesty.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Ensure that Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and all prisoners are treated in line with the Mandela Rules, including being given regular access to family visits and phone calls;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally revoke the sentences against Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi and drop all charges against them; and
  3. Immediately release Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi as well as all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention relates only to the peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights.

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 (b and c): "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (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): "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."