Saudi Arabia: Detained human rights activists subject to reprisals and additional prison sentences


The authorities in Saudi Arabia continue targeting detained human rights activists, who are at risk of reprisals and additional sentences. It’s a major part of Saudi policies that have never tolerated the work of human rights defenders or their peaceful and legitimate activities focused on defending people’s rights, as illustrated by numerous cases documented by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

Reliable reports confirmed that more than four months ago, the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal (SCCA) decided to add a further five years in prison to the original sentence of eight years’ imprisonment issued last year against woman human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham (pictured at a young age in the photo above, which is the only known photo of her).

She was arrested at home on 06 December 2015 along with her husband Mousa Al-Hashim. The two participated in peaceful protests in Al-Qatif that took place as demonstrations spread across the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring beginning in 2011. On 10 February 2021, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Al-Ghomgham to eight years in prison followed by another eight years of travel ban starting after her prison sentence is served. She was 32 years old at the time of sentencing.

Following an international outcry, the prosecution dropped the demand that Al-Ghomgham be sentenced to beheading, but her husband and four other defendants remain at risk of capital punishment. For more information about the case and the charges brought against her, see GCHR’s appeal of 13 February 2021:

Al-Ghomgham remains in the General Intelligence (Al-Mahabith) Prison in Al-Dhamam, where she has been held since her arrest. GCHR has received information that her health has deteriorated and she has not had access to proper medical care.

In a separate case, on 11 October 2022, woman human rights defender Maha Al-Qahtani published a tweet on her Twitter account in which she said that her husband, detained human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani (pictured above), had been prevented from contacting her. She wrote, “Unfortunately the officer in charge of the calling center in Al-Hayer Reformatory Prison Facility in Riyadh deliberately cut off communication when my husband asked me to send a complaint about violations and harassment to officials, and this behaviour has been repeated many times before.”

On the night of 26 May 2022, Dr. Al-Qahtani was assaulted by a prisoner who is among a large group of mentally-ill patients who are crowded in ward 8A within Al-Ha’ir Reformatory Prison in Riyadh. He also carried out several hunger strikes due to the ill-treatment that he has been subjected to.

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.

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).

The ACPRA was founded on 12 October 2009 to promote fundamental rights in Saudi Arabia, and was banned in 2013. Most of its members were arrested and put on trial, and remain in prison to this day.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Israa Al-Ghomgham and Mousa Al-Hashim and ensure that the death sentence is not implemented in his case, nor in the cases of any other peaceful protestors;
  2. While Al-Ghomgham is in custody, provide proper care to maintain her health, and allow her full access to her family;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, all other members of the ACPRA and all prisoners of conscience;
  4. Allow prisoners to file complaints for abuse in prison and ensure accountability for those who attack them;
  5. Drop all charges against those arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including women’s rights defenders, and free them unconditionally; and
  6. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals.