Saudi Arabia: Authorities systematically campaign against literary, media and academic intellectuals


The Saudi authorities continue to systematically campaign against prominent community figures who believe in reform and the values ​​of human rights, including a large number of prominent literary, media and academic intellectuals. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has documented arbitrary arrests and lengthy prison sentences on trumped-up charges in courts that lacked the minimum international standards of fair trial and due process, with many remaining behind bars without even knowing the nature of the charges against them.

A number of people were arrested following the launch of the "September 15 Movement" in 2017, when the hashtag #September15_Movement topped Twitter on 14 September 2017. Those in charge of the hashtag called for demonstrations to protest against what they described as repressive government policies, the deterioration of social services and the rise in unemployment rates. They demanded that the authorities address these problems and lift the unjust restrictions on women.

In trials confronting peaceful activities on the Internet, the Saudi authorities used Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which states: "Any person who commits any of the following shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding three million riyals, or by one of these two punishments." Among the cyber crimes listed is "1. Producing something that would prejudice public order."

The Saudi authorities used the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), which was established in 2008 to hear cases of terrorism, to restrict diverse opinions and put human rights activists and reform advocates in prison with heavy sentences.

On 24 April 2020, writer and novelist Ali Al-Shadawi tweeted following the death of prominent human rights defender Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, in which he said, "My condolences to his family and loved ones. A bright page has been turned over in history." His Twitter account was suspended the next day and he was arrested on 30 September 2017, without knowing the nature of the charges against him.

Al-Shadawi wrote for a number of Saudi and Arabic magazines and newspapers. He has published several novels and studies, including the book, "The Aesthetics of the Wonder and the Strange, Introduction to the Thousand and One Nights", which was published in 2004, and "The Birds of Ethiopia", a novel published in 2014. He won the Al Baha Prize for Creativity in the short story field for his story, "Sweet in its hilarity, cheerfulness, and evil."

On 04 October 2017, Dr. Mubarak bin Saeed bin Zuair was arrested as part of a wide campaign of arrests carried out by the Saudi security forces in September 2017, which included a large number of human rights defenders, academics, media professionals, writers, and clerics.

Dr. Zuair, 47 years old, is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Arabic at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University (IMSIU), and has been arrested several times in the past due to his great activism in defending prisoners of opinion. He has been removed from teaching and transferred to administrative work in order to prevent him from being contact with students.

On 30 September 2017, the security forces arrested Dr. Razeen bin Mohammed Al-Razeen and took him to an unknown destination without giving any information about the reasons for his arrest and the nature of the charges against him. He was subjected to enforced disappearance from the date of his arrest until 06 January 2018, and was not allowed to hire a lawyer.

Dr. Al-Razeen is a Professor of Accounting and Monitoring at Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University, and a member of the Executive Council of the Consumer Protection Association in Saudi Arabia. Local reports stated that the reason for the arrest was his objection to the decision to raise the prices of chronic medicines that patients need on a daily basis, and his vigorous fight against commercial fraud and the greed of some merchants in his quest to protect the consumer. He holds a master's degree in religion and contemporary intellectual doctrines, and is known for his opposition to normalisation with Israel and his defense of public freedoms.

On 14 April 2016, in an article he published in Al-Jazirah, a Saudi daily newspaper, under the title "Scientific Corruption, the Silent Danger", Al-Razeen wrote, "People talk a lot about financial corruption nonstop, and it is the issue of the era and its preoccupation, and there is no doubt that it is dangerous to society, as the economy is the backbone of life, but scientific corruption is more dangerous and worse."

On 12 September 2017, security forces raided the house of writer and researcher Abdullah Al-Maliki and arrested him. In September 2020, the SCC sentenced him to seven years in prison for his tweets and other online publications in which he wrote about freedom of expression and political representation, and in which he defended members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). Among the charges against him is "Inciting public opinion against the ruler."

Al-Maliki, 43 years old, holds a master's degree in religion and contemporary intellectual doctrines from Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca. He had a great influence among young people, and has a book entitled, "The Sovereignty of the Nation before the Implementation of Sharia," described by journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a tweet on 21 November 2017 as follows: "Abdullah Al-Maliki’s book, The Sovereignty of the Nation before the Implementation of Sharia, is a progressive opinion that many ‘liberals’ who cheer and justify the arrests will not dare to express." The book is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.

On Al-Maliki’s Twitter account, the following phrase is in his bio, "Oh, damned authority, stop at your limits, and don't penetrate our space... so that we can devote ourselves to prostrate and glorify at times... and to love and sing at other times." On 07 September 2017, he tweeted, "Whatever form of political system you propose and believe in its goodness, there is nothing more dangerous or worse than that the will of an individual has the force of valid law."

On 08 February 2021, the Moroccan security authorities arrested Dr. Osama Al-Hasani, an academic from Saudi Arabia, at his home in Tangiers, four hours after his arrival in Morocco, where he lives with his wife and infant child, who was four months old at the time. He was assaulted, beaten and cursed in front of his wife and child. His arrest came after the International Criminal Police (Interpol) issued an arrest warrant against him with a Red Notice, requested by the Saudi authorities. Red notices should typically only be used for "murder, rape, child abuse or armed robbery."

Al-Hasani, aged 42, holds Australian citizenship and obtained a doctorate in information systems. He is a former faculty member at King Abdulaziz University, north of Jeddah campus, and had moved to live in Britain in recent years.

On 10 March 2021, the Court of Cassation in Morocco issued a decision to deport Al-Hasani to Saudi Arabia, and he was handed over to the Saudi authorities on 13 March 2021. The procedures for his deportation took place with record speed.

Dr. Al-Hasani was subjected to harsh detention conditions in Morocco, and his wife was only able to meet him for five minutes. Also, a representative of the Saudi embassy in Morocco was also allowed to attend his court session, which might be considered an attempt to interfere in the work and independence of the Moroccan judiciary.

According to local reports, a Saudi court had previously sentenced him to two years in prison, but he denied all the charges against him.

His wife, Hana Al-Hasani, of Moroccan nationality, said on her Twitter account, which was closed after the deportation of her husband, "With regard to the malicious accusation against him, my husband is more honourable and cleaner than that, the son of an ancient scientific family with a pure white history, a station of love and appreciation from the people."

GCHR deplores the Moroccan authorities' deportation of Dr. Al-Hasani to a country known for grave human rights violations, where he could be tortured and subjected to an unfair trial. GCHR also calls on the Saudi authorities to disclose his current whereabouts and legal status.

In a case dating back 14 years, Dr. Saud Mukhtar Al-Hashimi, 57 years old, has been detained in Dhahban prison since his arrest in February 2007. Dr. Al-Hashimi, who holds a doctorate in family and community medicine, was distinguished by his media presence and appeared in several television seminars. He used to write a weekly article in Al-Madina newspaper entitled "Sting and Honey".

On 02 February 2007, Dr. Al-Hashimi was arrested along with nine other activists, including prominent human rights defender Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi, in Jeddah. The ten personalities met together to draft a reform statement to the king demanding rights for the people of Saudi Arabia.

In November 2012, after five years of detention, the SCC sentenced him to thirty years in prison, a travel ban for the same period, and a fine of two million Saudi riyals. He spent three years in solitary confinement and was banned from having visits for two years. His health deteriorated in prison, and he underwent two surgeries.

His brother, Abdulaziz Al-Hashimi, also talked on Twitter about his brother being subjected to torture from time to time, stating that prison authorities "prevent him from sleeping, and they put him in a cell where the temperature is controlled, ranging from below zero up to 40 degrees, meaning the heat is severe in the context of the continuous torture of the man after his hunger strike."

Al-Hashimi is a member of the group known as the "Jeddah Reformists" whose primary goal was to draft a manifesto calling for political reform.

On 09 September 2017, Dr. Ali Al-Omari was arrested as part of the campaigns to arrest intellectuals, which came after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince on 21 June 2017. On 05 September 2018, the Public Prosecution requested the SCC to issue the death sentence against him, after more than thirty charges were brought against him, including forming a youth organisation in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Al-Omari, 49 years old, is the President of Mecca Al-Mukarramah Open University, and is from the city of Jeddah. His rhetoric was moderate, directed at young people in Saudi Arabia. He has authored more than 70 books and produced more than 20 television programmes. He was awarded the title of Arab Tourism Ambassador in 2012 for his "Tourist’s Notes" programme.

Among his books is a book, Problems and Solutions in the Life of Young People. Dr. Al-Omari was working as a general supervisor on the Four Shabab satellite channel and received the Best Media Award for the year 2008 from Al-Resalah satellite channel.

On 24 September 2017, the security forces arrested Dr. Sami bin Abdulaziz Al-Majed, professor of jurisprudence at Imam Mohammed bin Saud University, without stating the reasons for the arrest, and he was also prevented from appointing a lawyer. According to local reports, in February 2020, he went before a secret trial session at the SCC.

On 08 September 2012, Dr. Salem Al-Dini was active on his Twitter account, before being arrested the next day. He was dismissed from his position as Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development for Social Development Affairs, the previous month.

He holds a PhD in 2005 from Texas A&M University in America, and a diploma in the use of cognitive therapy in behavior modification from Emerald College in Britain. Dr. Al-Dini has contributed to many non-profit projects and has participated in many volunteer activities, including with students, relief and charitable societies. Reliable sources confirmed that these activities were the reason for his arrest.

Dr. Ahmed bin Abdulrahman Al-Sowayan was last active on his Facebook page on 16 September 2017, before being arrested the next day by the security forces.

Dr. Al-Sowayan is the president of the Islamic Press Association and the chairman of the board of directors of "Al-Bayan magazine". He was active in the media, and was known for his defense of the rights of the Palestinian people.

In September 2020, the SCC sentenced him to three years in prison on trumped-up charges related to his media activities, in violation of his right to freedom of expression.

GCHR condemns the arrest and imprisonment of leading intellectuals who have influence in Saudi society who are sentenced following show trials that include fabricated charges. This violates international human rights law, in addition to the international and national obligations of the Kingdom, in particular its duty to protect the human and civil rights of citizens. GCHR further criticises the Saudi authorities in the highest ranks, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who have adopted a systematic policy of targeting influential voices promoting reforms and human rights. This represents further evidence of the pursuit of the Saudi authorities to eliminate the human rights movement and its constructive role in the defense of the people’s rights.

GCHR urges the authorities of Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all detained literary, media and academic intellectuals and drop all charges against them;
  2. Protect public freedom including freedom of expression off and online and freedom of the press;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, journalists, writers and academics in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.