Amnesty urges Riyadh to free rights activists

Amnesty urges Riyadh to free rights activists
Sat Mar 8, 2014 11:13:30

Amnesty International has called on Saudi Arabia to release two founders of a local human rights organization who have spent nearly a year behind bars.

Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in jail respectively on 9 March 2013. Both are co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of the few organizations in the country recording human rights violations and assisting families of detainees held without charge.

“Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid are guilty of nothing more than daring to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The reality is that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is abysmal and anyone who risks highlighting flaws in the system is branded a criminal and tossed in a jail cell,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“By locking up two prominent human rights activists Saudi Arabia is brazenly flouting its international obligations and has displayed a flagrant disregard for people’s rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid were found guilty of several “offences”, including disobeying the ruler, inciting disorder and setting up an unlicensed organization. Their sentences were upheld by the Court of Appeal in January 2014. In the same trial session the court also ordered the disbanding of ACPRA and confiscation of its property. Even after their release from prison both men will be subject to lengthy travel bans.

Earlier this week the two men began a hunger strike in protest at the deterioration of their prison conditions. Both men have suffered as a result of arbitrary decisions by the prison authorities including confiscation of their books and personal belongings and moving them to prison cells that pose serious dangers to their health. Mohammad al-Qahtani was reportedly placed in solitary confinement since he started his hunger strike.

It is feared that a new anti-terrorism law introduced last month, featuring an overly vague-definition of terrorism and granting the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers, will speed up the crackdown on peaceful dissent.

“Saudi Arabia must stop abusing the justice system to silence criticism by imprisoning human rights defenders in the name of defending national security,” said Boumedouha.

“The international community must ratchet up pressure on Saudi Arabia’s authorities to release all imprisoned peaceful activists.”

Saudi officials’ refusal to register political and human rights groups, the situation of foreign workers, and bans on women were among the violations listed as its human rights violations.


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