Saudi Arabia: Human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi sentenced to one more year in prison


On 01 December 2020, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi to another year in prison, including six months for traveling to Qatar in 2017 and another six months for tweets he posted during that period. It is expected that he will appeal this ruling, but the judgment will be reviewed by the same court that originally issued it.

On 25 January 2018, the SCC had 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.

The two men 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 inciting public opinion; re-tweeting a tweet on Twitter after it was published by a member of the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), 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 SCC 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 having been 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 see:

GCHR condemns in the strongest terms the systematic targeting by the authorities in Saudi Arabia of human rights defenders. We believe that it is shameful that Saudi Arabia is willing to imprison two peaceful, 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 call on Saudi Arabia to end immediately its massive violations against human rights.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally revoke the sentences against Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi and drop all charges against them; and
  2. Immediately release Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi, 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.