Saudi Arabia: Prominent human rights defender Mohammed Al-Qahtani on new hunger strike to protest ill-treatment in prison


Update: Saudi Arabia: On 15 August 2021, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani began a new hunger strike due to the failure of prison authorities to implement his previous three demands. This includes a request to move psychiatric patients from the prison due to the danger their presence poses to other inmates, particularly since one of them started a fire, which indicates the severity of the situation, according a twitter post by his wife Maha Al-Qahtani.


Update: Saudi Arabia: On 12 August 2021, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani contacted his wife Maha Al-Qahtani by phone after waiting to speak with her for a month and announced the cessation of his hunger strike. He  received promises from prison officials to improve his conditions in the prison ward, transfer the mentally ill inmates, and allow him to get his books. On 15 August 2021, his wife said her telephone number is blocked again and the other two promises have n't been met as yet.


Human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani has started a new hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment in the Riyadh Reformatory section in Al-Ha’ir Prison where he is being held.

On 09 August 2021, human rights defender Maha Al-Qahtani announced on her Twitter account that her husband, Dr. Al-Qahtani, had begun a hunger strike. In the tweet she mentioned the reasons for his action, namely ill-treatment, being deprived of his books that have remained in the possession of the prison administration for nearly a year, and his wife’s phone number being blocked so that he could not contact his family. In addition, he is protesting the presence of a number of inmates who suffer from mental illnesses and need to be hospitalised for treatment, instead of being in prison.

Dr. Al-Qahtani had previously started a hunger strike on 19 December 2020, to protest his inability to phone his family, as well as the seizure by the prison administration of the books sent to him and their failure to hand them over to him. On 30 December 2020, Dr. Al-Qahtani ended his hunger strike after the authorities pledged to comply with his demands.

Dr. Al-Qahtani is a founding member of the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA) and a professor at the Institute of Diplomatic Studies, which operates under the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He earned his doctorate from the American University in Indiana. He is a thinker, human rights defender and writer, who has written for numerous Saudi newspapers. He was banned from writing several times by the Saudi authorities. In November 2012 he was named by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the 100 prominent thinkers in the world.

On 09 March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced Dr. Al-Qahtani to 10 years in prison on 12 charges including setting up an unlicensed organisation (namely ACPRA), "refusing to submit to the will of the King", "inciting public disorder" and "communicating with foreign entities." Despite the opportunity to appeal, the human rights defender was immediately imprisoned.

For more information on his case, see:

Once again, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses its deep concern about the targeting of Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani by the administration of Al-Ha'ir Reformatory Prison, and declares its full solidarity with him, and believes that this treatment is because he is a brave defender of human rights. This forms part of a common and systematic pattern adopted by the Saudi authorities of targeting human rights defenders wherever they are in the country, inside and outside prison.

GCHR urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and release him from prison, along with all unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders;
  2. Immediately stop the ill-treatment that Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani faces in prison, which violates the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
  3. 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.