Saudi Arabia: Ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders continues in Al-Ha’ir Prison

29.04.21

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is very concerned that human rights defenders are not being provided proper medical treatment in prison for illness including Covid-19, particularly after prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani contracted the virus. 

On 20 April 2021, human rights defender Maha Al-Qahtani, the wife of Dr. Al-Qahtani, posted a tweet in which she said, “I would like to tell everyone that my husband, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, called us after 14 days of no communication and reassured us that he is recovering from his infection with the Coronavirus. It is unfortunate that he is sick and did not know that his illness was due to the Coronavirus until 8 days after his infection. "

On the morning of the same day, the family had published a video in which they talked about the repercussions of Dr. Al-Qahtani's infection and the denial of contact with his family or appropriate medical care. The family held Saudi authorities fully responsible for his safety. Maha Al-Qahtani also recalled the death of his companion, prominent human rights defender Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, behind bars, on the occasion of the anniversary of his death on 24 April 2020, after the authorities deliberately kept him without adequate treatment in the intensive care unit, which led to his death. For more information, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2682

On 27 April 2021, Maha Al-Qahtani published two more tweets, in which she confirmed that the responsible authorities continued to ignore the calls of the detainees' families to contact them. She reported that the rights of detainees continued to be violated in Wing A8 of the Riyadh Reformatory section in Al-Ha’ir Prison, where Dr. Al-Qahtani and other human rights defenders are kept, including not being allowed daily exposure to the sun, in addition to allowing smoking inside the wing, which led to the air being polluted with smoke, causing shortness of breath for those suffering from asthma. 

Besides that, there is in the same wing a group of detainees suffering from mental and psychological diseases who are in need of adequate health care, which should be provided to them in wards that suit their health needs.

Dr. Al-Qahtani shares his suffering from this ill-treatment inside Wing A8 with fellow human rights defenders Issa Al-NukhaifiFawzan Al-Harbi and other prisoners of conscience.

GCHR calls on the Saudi government to:

  1. Provide proper medical treatment to prisoners, including Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, and those who are in poor health or contracted Covid-19;
  2. Initiate an immediate, thorough, and impartial investigation into the poor medical treatment that led to the death of Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, with a view to disseminating the results and bringing those who are responsible for his death to justice in accordance with international standards;
  3. 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 human rights defenders;
  4. Immediately stop the mistreatment of prisoners of conscience and all prisoners, including now allowing reading materials in the prison and prohibiting regular family contacts, which violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) in all prisons; and
  5. Ensure in all circumstances the ability of human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia to carry out their legitimate work in the field of human rights.