Saudi Arabia: Human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi sentenced to additional three years in prison


In March 2021, a Saudi appeals court increased the sentence handed down to imprisoned human rights defender Mohammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi in December 2020 by three years. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) protests the sentencing and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Al-Otaibi and all human rights defenders imprisoned in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

On 01 December 2020, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Al-Otaibi to six months in prison for travelling to Qatar in 2017 and another six months for tweets he posted during that period. This is in addition to the 14-year prison sentence he was already serving for his human rights activities.

In a hearing that was held during the first half of March 2021, the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and increased the prison sentence to three years for travelling to Qatar in 2017, tweets he posted during that period, and for alleged membership of the Association of Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). The ruling will be challenged before the Cassation Court.  

On 16 January 2021, Al-Otaibi started a hunger strike in the General Intelligence Prison in Al-Dhamam. Among his demands were that he be moved to a prison close to where his family lives in Jeddah. He also requested proper medical care as he suffers from high blood pressure and the prison administrators was not giving him access to suitable medication. He ended his hunger strike on 31 January 2021 after more than two weeks.

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. It is worth noting that the SCC 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 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; and re-tweeting a tweet published by a member of the ACPRA, human rights defender Issa Al-Hamed, who is currently in prison.

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 courageous human rights defenders for setting up a human rights organisation that operates peacefully according to local and international laws. GCHR appeals to the UN and its member states to call on Saudi Arabia to immediately end its massive violations against human rights defenders.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally overturn the sentence against Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi, among other human rights defenders sentenced in violation of their rights to freedom of association and expression, and drop all charges against them;
  2. Immediately release Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi, Abdullah Madhi Al-Attawi and Issa Al-Hamed, and all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention relates only to their 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.