Saudi Arabia: Human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi on hunger strike


On 16 January 2021, human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi started a hunger strike in prison in Saudi Arabia, according to reliable local reports. He has not contacted his family since he began the hunger strike two weeks ago. In December 2020, he was sentenced to an additional year in prison, in addition to the 14-year prison sentence he is already serving for his human rights activities.

Among Al-Otaibi’s demands are that he be moved from the General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dhamam to a prison close to where his family lives in Jeddah. He is also requesting proper medical care as he suffers from high blood pressure and the prison administrators are not giving him access to suitable medication.

On 01 December 2020, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Al-Otaibi six months for traveling to Qatar in 2017 and another six months for tweets he posted during that period. 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 were 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.

For more information on his 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;
  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; and
  3. While he remains imprisoned, ensure that Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi receives the needed medical care, has regular access to his family, and is permitted to serve out his sentence in a prison in Jeddah, close to his family.