Saudi Arabia: Prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani has contracted Covid-19 in prison


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is alarmed at reports that indicated Covid-19 is spreading in Saudi prisons, and that prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani is among those who have contracted the virus. Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed that Saudi authorities are doing very little to protect the lives of prisoners, who are held in overcrowded cells.

On 09 April 2021, Maha Al-Qahtani, his wife, posted the following tweet on her Twitter account, "It is unfortunate that Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani was infected with Covid-19 and I was unable to communicate with him and to check on his health condition. I hold the prison administration and State Security responsible for any medical negligence or failure to follow up on him." His family was not allowed to have any communication with him since 07 April 2021.

Dr. Al-Qahtani is held in Wing A8 of the Riyadh Reformatory section in Al-Ha’ir Prison, and has only recently been moved to isolation. Maha Al-Qahtani confirmed that several suspected cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wing A8.

In December 2020 and March 2021, he undertook hunger strikes to protest the poor treatment of inmates. On 13 March, 30 Saudi prisoners of conscience, including Dr. Al-Qahtani, Fawzan Al-Harbi and Issa Al-Nukhaifi, ended a one-week hunger strike when the authorities promised to address and implement their demands for better treatment. However, there is no evidence that they kept their promises.

GCHR believes that there may be medical negligence in Saudi prisons on the basis that prisoners were vaccinated even though many of them already had symptoms of Covid-19. The proper medical procedure is to isolate them and provide the proper protocol of treatment under the supervision of a specialist medical team, which is not the case in Saudi prisons, according to report received by GCHR. Other prisoners are at risk of contracting the virus.

Dr. Al-Qahtani is a founding member of the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). On 09 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced him to 10 years in prison on 12 charges related to his human rights activities.

GCHR has previously complained of the poor treatment of prisoners, including prominent human rights defender Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, who died on 24 April 2020, after being deprived of medical care in prison in Riyadh.

GCHR urges the authorities in the Kingdom of 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 due to Covid-19 or other health concerns, and ensure that ill prisoners are receiving proper medical 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
  4. Ensure that all Saudi human rights defenders are able in all circumstances to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and without any restrictions, including judicial harassment.