Saudi Arabia: Prominent human rights defender Mohammed Al-Qahtani on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment in prison


Update: Saudi Arabia: On 30 December 2020, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani ended his hunger strike after authorities pledged to address his demands, and on the same day he called his family for the first time, ten days after the hunger strike began.


Reliable reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) confirmed that prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence, has started a hunger strike due to the ill-treatment he suffers in prison.

On 18 December 2020, Dr. Al-Qahtani began a hunger strike in Al-Ha’ir criminal prison to protest his inability to contact his family, or to receive the books sent to him which have been withheld by the prison administration. Although his family tried to contact various authorities, they have not been able to speak with Dr. Al-Qahtani since he began his hunger strike.

Dr. Al-Qahtani is a founding member of the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA) and a professor at the Institute of Diplomatic Studies, which operates under the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He earned his doctorate from the American University of Indiana. He is a thinker, human rights defender and writer, who has written for numerous Saudi newspapers. He was banned from writing several times by the Saudi authorities. In November 2012 he was nominated by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the 100 prominent thinkers in the world.

On 09 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced Dr. Al-Qahtani to 10 years in 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, the human rights defender was immediately imprisoned.

For more information on his case, see:

GCHR expresses its deep concern about the targeting of Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani by the administration of Al-Ha'ir Criminal Prison and believes that this is solely because he is a courageous human rights defender. This forms part of a common and systematic pattern adopted by the Saudi authorities of targeting human rights defenders throughout the country.

GCHR urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and release him from prison, along with all unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders;
  2. Immediately stop the ill-treatment that Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani faces in prison, which violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
  3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are able in all circumstances to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without any restrictions, including judicial harassment.