Saudi Arabia: Ongoing grave violations of civil and human rights in a country that has become a police state par excellence


Members of civil society, particularly human rights defenders including journalists and Internet activists, have not escaped the human rights violations that Saudi authorities have constantly committed in recent years, turning the country into a police state in every sense of this word. In this report, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents a number of violations including heavy prison sentences for a journalist, the death of a prisoner of conscience and additional arrests of women activists.

Journalist Ali Mohsen Ahmed Abu Lahoum sentenced to 15 years in prison

Yemeni journalist Ali Mohsen Ahmed Abu Lahoum arrived in Saudi Arabia on 28 April 2015 and took up the position of Executive Director at Al-Wadi Satellite Channel, as well as being an advertising designer, in the city of Najran, where he resided. He previously worked as a journalist and broadcaster for the Yemen Times newspaper and radio, as well as a translator.

Abu Lahoum was arrested on 23 August 2021, after his sponsor asked him to go with him to work; but he then disappeared for 24 hours before being able to call his wife. He told her that he was in the Criminal Investigation Section of the Directorate of Investigation (Al-Mabahith) in Najran and was facing interrogation related to a publishing case. His wife was not able to see him until ten days later, when she met him for less than a minute in the Al-Mabahith prison.

His phone was confiscated upon his arrest, but remained working and at the disposal of the investigators.  

On 26 October 2021, the Criminal Court issued a punitive verdict against Abu Lahoum, sentencing him to ten years in prison after convicting him of apostasy and atheism, and another five years in prison for publishing his writings on social media networks that "would prejudice public order, religious values ​​and morals", according to the verdict certificate that GCHR received a copy of.

His trial on these serious charges, which he totally denied in detail, took only two hearings. The court appointed a lawyer for him, but his role was marginal. Abu Lahoum was alone in the lengthy interrogation sessions after his arrest, during which he was severely threatened in order to extract confessions from him about the charges against him. He testified about this treatment in court.

His family has hired a new lawyer for him, who is currently preparing the appeal file, which he will submit within the 30 days after the initial verdict was issued against his client.

GCHR condemns the verdict issued against journalist Ali Mohsen Ahmed Abu Lahoum and his show trial, which lacked minimum international standards for fair trial and legal procedures; and calls for his immediate release and for all fabricated charges against him to be dropped.

Targeting of recently released human rights defenders

Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed the continued targeting of human rights defenders who were released during the past year, effectively moving them from living in a small prison to another large prison in which all their civil and human rights were confiscated.

Despite the fact that they were imprisoned after unfair trials on false charges related to their peaceful and legitimate activities in the field of human rights, the text of the amended Article 4 of the Civil Service System applies to them, which requires those hired for a job to be of good conduct, and not have been sentenced to prison for more than one year. Also, in most cases, their recruitment requires a security check, which means that they are not eligible for any significant vacant jobs.

Prominent women human rights defenders Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah and Loujain Al-Hathloul, as well as human rights defender Essam Koshak, are not allowed to express their opinions freely on social media networks, or speak freely to the media. They are also prevented from obtaining suitable jobs. After all this direct persecution, they are also prevented from traveling abroad to start a new life in which they could enjoy their full rights and rebuild their future.

Human rights defender Naimah Al-Matrod in poor health

Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed the deterioration of the health of Internet activist Naimah Al-Matrod, which can be described as unstable.

On 10 November 2017, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh issued its ruling to imprison Al-Matrod for six years and ban her from traveling for another six years after serving her sentence. She has been indicted on charges related to her peaceful online activities. Al-Matrod has been imprisoned in the prison affiliated with the General Investigation Directorate in Dammam since her arrest on 13 April 2016.

Prominent reformist Dr. Musa Al-Qarni dies

Reliable reports confirmed the death of one of Jeddah’s most prominent reformists, prisoner of conscience and academic Dr. Musa Al-Qarni, on 12 October 2021 in his cell in Dhahban Prison. He was beaten by a group of prisoners on the face and head, causing his skull to be crushed and his face to be disfigured, which led to his death, while the prison guards just stood by looking.

He was arrested on 02 February 2007, while he was attending a meeting with his colleagues aimed at establishing an association to spread awareness among citizens and call for reform. He was severely tortured and kept in solitary confinement for long periods. On 22 November 2011, the SCC sentenced him to 20 years in prison and a travel ban for another 20 years after his release. He was convicted of many charges, including disobedience to the ruler, and participating in the establishment of a secret organisation aimed at spreading chaos and gaining power.

In May 2018, he suffered a stroke, and instead of being given proper medical attention, he was transferred to a mental hospital in Jeddah.

This is not the first incident in which prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia have been targeted while they are inside Saudi prisons. Many similar cases have occurred in recent years, and they clearly reflect the failure of the Saudi authorities to apply most of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela rules), including the fifth rule, which states that, "The prison regime should seek to minimise any differences between prison life and life at liberty." As well, paragraph 1 of rule 44 emphasises that, "The provision of health care for prisoners is a State responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community."

Two Internet activists, Rina Abdelaziz and Yasmine Al-Ghafaili, arrested

Press reports confirmed that the security forces arrested two Internet activists, 20-year-old Rina Abdulaziz on 13 May 2021, and 26-year-old Yasmine Al-Ghafaili, on 17 May 2021. They were taken from their homes in the city of Rass, west of Al-Qassim region. They have been targeted for their peaceful online activism and for expressing their opinions on public issues of concern to citizens. The authorities did not disclose any information about the reasons for their arrests, their whereabouts, or any specific charges against them.


 GCHR urges the Saudi authorities to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders, including all journalists and online activists, as well as any citizens who express themselves in public, and drop all charges against them;
  2. Pending the release of all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, full implementation of all the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules);
  3. Protect public freedoms including the right to freedom of expression both online and offline; and
  4. Ensure, in all circumstances, that all human rights defenders and Internet activists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals and without restrictions, including judicial harassment.