Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia- Writer and human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari sentenced to five years in jail
On 17 June 2013, the Special Court on State Security and Terrorism in Jeddah sentenced human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari to five years in prison. Three years of the sentence falls under Article VI of the Cyber Crime Law for posting on Youtube a video of two Tabouk city girls. Judge Nasser Al-Harbi also imposed a travel ban for ten years that will be implemented upon confirmation of the verdict.
Furthermore, he is forbidden from writing in the press and the Internet including social media networks. He is also forbidden from talking to or appearing in print and audio-visual media in addition to being interviewed.
The Special Court on State Security and Terrorism in Jeddah changed the original charge of "annoying others", after the case was referred to it by Sharia courts. The court replaced the old charge with the following charges:
1. Attempting to discredit the kingdom in the eyes of the internal and external public opinions by publishing a video of two Tabouk girls on Youtube.
2 . Stirring sedition among people.
3. Insulting clergies in addition to accusing state officials of being dishonest and not transparent in his articles.
The video of two Tabouk city girls was prepared by women's rights advocates. It was a copy of the actual recording obtained by Al-Shammari when he visited the two girls as their attorney and a member of the National Family Safety Program at a protected house of the Ministry of Social Affairs. He was trying to help them lead a normal life, free from abuse and fear.
Al-Shammari will appeal this verdict on 27 June 2013, through his lawyer Ahmad Khalid Al-Sudairy. Al-Shammari expressed his hope that the case will be revoked due to the lack of jurisdiction of the court. On 24 February 2012, he was released on bail by the order of the Minister of Interior in Saudi Arabia after already having served 20 months in prison in the same case. This previous period of imprisonment will be reduced from the current 5 years sentence.
Al-Shammari said after the verdict: "All the evidence presented against me are my articles published in the Saudi press and the Internet and they are an expression of opinion and they are not the prerogative of the court." He added, "This provision was prepared by the Interior Ministry and the proof is that the Prosecutor did not ask for a travel ban in the indictment, but the court adopted a previous order of the Ministry, which was issued last year."
Mikhlif Al-Shammari is a writer and prominent human rights defender who advocates for reform and democratic change in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that Mikhlif Al-Shammari has been targeted as a result of his peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights, in particular his work to promote reforms and democracy in Saudi Arabia.
The GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
1.Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Mikhlif Al-Shammari and quash the prison sentences against him;
2. Immediately and unconditionally remove the travel ban imposed on human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari;
3. Immediately Stop targeting and harassing human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari. The Saudi Government has a responsibility to meet its international obligations to protect human rights defenders in the country;
4. 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 and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 5 (c): "For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (c) To communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations" and to Article 6 (c): "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters."