Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia: Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani commence hunger strike and sentence of Mikhlif Al-Shammari upheld as oppression of human rights defenders continues
The situation of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia remains critical as during the past week two human rights defenders have started a hunger strike while the unjust prison sentence against another was upheld.
Detained human rights defenders Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani, have began a hunger strike in protest against their conditions in al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh. The hunger strike was precipitated when, on 3 March 2014, Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani, were transferred to an area in the prison where smoking is allowed. They opposed the transfer and began an open-ended hunger strike in protest and in demand of better food and health care treatment in the prison. Both defenders have endured harassment by prison officers including by having their books and personal belongings confiscated and being placed in cells that pose serious dangers to their health. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Mohammad Al-Qahtani have allegedly placed in solitary confinement since they started their hunger strike. It is reported that their lawyers were denied access to them when they arrived at the prison on 5 March 2014.
This latest development comes at the time of the first year anniversary of their imprisonment following their sentencing on 9 March 2013. They are co-founders of the now dissolved Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), an organisation that recorded human rights violations and assisted families of detainees held without charge. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has issued previous appeals on their case including one on 11 March 2013 following their sentencing (http://gc4hr.org/news/view/362).
On 5 March 2014, the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh, presided over by Judge Nasser Al Harbi, upheld the verdict against human rights defender Mikhlif Al-Shammari. The sentence included five years in prison, a ten-year travel ban to commence on completion of his sentence, and a ban on his writing articles, accessing the Internet and appearing in the media. The sentence related to eight charges including, attempting to discredit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the eyes of internal and external public opining, stirring sedition, and insulting clergy and accusing state officials on dishonesty. Reportedly, 106 days, which he spent in detention in 2010 based on the same charges, will be taken into account in the five-year sentence. He reportedly, intends to appeal the verdict to the Court of Appeal specialized in State Security and Terrorism before 4 April 2014. Mikhlif Al-Shammari is a writer and prominent human rights defender who advocates for reform and democratic change in Saudi Arabia. The GCHR issued a previous appeal on his case following his initial sentencing (For further information see http://gc4hr.org/news/view/441).
The GCHR expresses serious concern at the situation of Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Mikhlif Al-Shammari. It expresses further concern for the health and safety of Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani in light of the fact that they are on hunger strike and have been denied access to their lawyers. The GCHR believes that Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Mikhlif Al-Shammari are being targeted by the authorities as a direct result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The GCHR urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani;
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all the charges against Mikhlif Al-Shammari, as the GCHR believes that they are solely related to his legitimate human rights work;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani;
- Guarantee the physical and psychological security and integrity of Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani;
- Ensure that Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr Mohammed Al-Qahtani are granted immediate and unfettered access to their lawyers;
- 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, recognises 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 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” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”