Saudi Arabia: Imprisoned human rights defenders Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Issa Al-Nukhaifi brought to court months after their sentences ended


The Saudi authorities continue to systematically target detained human rights defenders and other activists with all available means, including the use of the judiciary, in order to keep them in prison for as long as possible. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns the practice of keeping imprisoned human rights defenders who have completed their sentences in prison in order to prevent them from carrying out their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. GCHR is particularly concerned about new cases brought against two prominent human rights defenders who were due to be released from prison last year after serving 10 years.

Human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani faces a new trial

GCHR once again expresses its grave concern for the safety and well-being of prominent human rights defender Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani (photo above on the left), who has been forcibly disappeared by the Saudi authorities for more than six months. We call on all international mechanisms and governments concerned with human rights to pressure the Saudi authorities to expedite his release.

His wife, human rights defender Maha Al-Qahtani, tweeted, "Monday, 08 May 2023, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani’s Hearing was postponed to next week in the Specialised Criminal Court due to the absence of Mohammad! We do not know what the charges are? Why my husband was deliberately prevented from communicating with us or with the lawyer?!"

The first hearing, which was held on 02 May 2023, was also postponed after Dr. Al-Qahtani was not brought to court.

Maha Al-Qahtani told GCHR, "This trial is invalid according to local laws and international human rights law, and he must be released immediately."

The last time his family heard from him was on 23 October 2022, when he called from Al-Ha’ir Reformatory Prison in Riyadh. He was due for release on 22 November 2022 after serving a 10-year prison sentence. His disappearance comes after his wife filed a complaint on 10 October 2022 with the prison director about her husband being repeatedly assaulted by inmates suffering from mental illnesses who are in the same ward (8a).

Repeated appeals by GCHR and over a dozen partners have previously called for the release of Dr. Al-Qahtani, who won the Right Livelihood Award in 2018 for his commitment to promoting human rights and advancing democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia.

09 March 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of his arrest due to his peaceful and ligitimate human rights activities.

Human rights defender Issa Al-Nukhaifi is also facing a new trial

Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed that human rights defender Issa Al-Nukhaifi (photo above on the right) is also being tried together with Dr. Al-Qahtani before the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh. These reports added that he, too, was not brought to either of the above-mentioned hearings.

Al-Nukhaifi was transferred on 24 October 2022 from Al-Ha’ir Reformatory Prison in Riyadh to an unknown destination, and there is no information about his current whereabouts. His supporters and family hoped that he would be released after he completed his sentence on 18 December 2022.

Thus, it can be said that Al-Nukhaifi is now subjected to enforced disappearance by the Saudi authorities, putting him in the same situation as prominent human rights defender Dr. Al-Qahtani. They spent their sentences in wing (8A) of the same prison, and together they went on several hunger strikes to demand their rights and to protest against the ill-treatment to which they were subjected.

On 28 February 2018, the SCC sentenced Al-Nukhaifi to six years in prison, to be followed by another six years of travel ban after his release, in addition to preventing him from writing or using social media. The SCC is the terrorism court which was established in 2008 ostensibly to try members of terrorist organisations, but is often used to imprison human rights defenders.

Al-Nukhaifi was charged with “insulting” the authorities and inciting public opinion against the rulers, as well as being in contact with suspected opposition figures. He was also accused of demanding the release of members of banned NGOs – namely the Association for Civil and Political Rights in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). He was charged under the Anti-Cyber Crimes Law in connection with his online activities on social media networks which include his rejection of the war in Yemen, and his support for the hashtag of the Popular Parliament.

Al-Nukhaifi is a community social activist who protested against the government’s policy of displacing families from the Saudi-Yemeni borders for security measures without adequate compensation. On 18 December 2016, the security forces in the Jizan region arrested Al-Nukhaifi after he tweeted on 06 December 2016: “I did not steal trillions, I did not buy a yacht and I did not buy a plane. I do not have a home for my children. I do not have a job after you took my job away and even my payment is late for the rented home so why the summons.”

He was previously released on 06 April 2016 after spending three years and eight months in prison. He was allegedly tortured and placed in solitary confinement after he began a hunger strike to demand justice. He was convicted on charges of defaming the judicial authority, accusing state institutions of failing to perform their duties, participating in sedition by inciting and organising demonstrations, and storing and sending material that would prejudice public order.


GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Issa Al-Nukhaifi, amd all other prisoners of conscience;
  2. While they are in custody, abide by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules), and provide proper care to maintain their health, and allow them full access to their families; and
  3. 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.