Saudi Arabia: 30 prisoners of conscience on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment


Update: Saudi Arabia: GCHR welcome news that 30 Saudi prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Fawzan Al-Harbi and Issa Al-Nukhaifi, ended their hunger strike on 13 March 2021 after one week when the authorities promised to address and implement their demands.


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received reliable reports confirming that 30 Saudi prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Fawzan Al-Harbi and Issa Al-Nukhaifi, have been on hunger strike since 06 March 2021. They were imprisoned for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities and are protesting bad conditions and ill-treatment in the Riyadh Reformatory section in Al-Ha’ir Prison, where they are being held in a wing with patients.

The hunger strikers are demanding an end to the humiliation and ill-treatment that prisoners of conscience face in Wing (A8) of the prison. They also protest that they are being held in this ward with psychiatric and mentally ill prisoners who need treatment, some of whom have made death threats against the prisoners of conscience. The hunger strikers are also demanding that they be provided with the books delivered to them and the daily newspapers that they have been prevented from receiving for the past two years. They also complain of being cut off during their phone calls with family members, despite the fact that - since they are held in a Reformatory Prison - calls should be free and unrestricted all the time.

GCHR has received information that Al-Nukhaifi was taken to the hospital after his blood sugar dropped to a very low level. On 28 February 2018, Al-Nukhaifi was sentenced by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) to six years in prison followed by another six years of travel ban upon his release. He was arrested and charged after he protested on Twitter against the government’s policy of displacing families from the Saudi-Yemeni borders.

Dr. Al-Qahtani and Al-Harbi are founding members of the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), which was systematically targeted by authorities in Saudi Arabia. On 9 March 2013, the judge at the Criminal Court in Riyadh ordered the dissolution of ACPRA and confiscation of all its properties.

On 19 November 2014, Al-Harbi was sentenced to ten years in prison followed by a ten-year travel ban. On 09 March 2013, Dr. Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Previously, on 18 December 2020, Dr. Al-Qahtani began a hunger strike to protest his inability to contact his family or to receive the books sent to him. On 30 December 2020, Dr. Al-Qahtani ended his hunger strike after authorities pledged to address his demands, and he was permitted to speak with his family after ten days.

However, the ill-treatment continued, leading to Dr. Al-Qahtani and the others to begin a new hunger strike in March 2020 to protest the violations of their rights as prisoners, which are guaranteed under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Human rights defender Maha Al-Qahtani, wife of Dr. Al-Qahtani, was the first to report news of the hunger strike in a tweet published on 08 March 2021.

GCHR urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Fawzan Al-Harbi and Issa Al-Nukhaifi and release them from prison, along with all unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders;
  2. Separate prisoners who pose a risk to other prisoners and ensure that psychiatric and mentally-ill prisoners are receiving treatment;
  3. Immediately put a stop to the ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience and all prisoners, including withholding reading materials and preventing regular family communications, which violates the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
    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.