Serious concerns raised over whereabouts of prominent Saudi human rights activist

Qahtani completed his 10-years sentence on Tuesday, however, his family and lawyers have not been able to establish contact with him since last week of October 

November 23, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Mohammed al-Qahtani Saudi Arabia
Mohammed al-Qahtani. (Photo: Front Line Defenders)

Various human rights groups have raised concern about the whereabouts of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a 57-year-old jailed human rights activist in Saudi Arabia who completed his 10-year prison term on Tuesday, November 22. Activists claimed that his case is yet another example of continued state persecution in the country.  

According to rights groups, Qahtani’s lawyers and family have been unable to establish contact with him since October 23, and do not know whether he has been released from prison. 

Qahtani is an economics professor and one of the founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). He, along with co-founder of ACPRA, Abdullah al-Hamid, were arrested by the Saudi authorities in 2012. They were given sentences of 10 and 11 years, respectively, for charges including “disrupting security and inciting disorder”, “disloyalty to the crown”, and “instigating international intervention,” among others.

ACPRA has faced strong state persecution in Saudi Arabia with most of its former members arrested in a systematic crackdown. Most of them are behind bars now and the organization was finally dissolved in 2013.

Hamid died in prison in 2020, allegedly due to medical negligence by the prison authorities who kept him in detention despite him suffering a stroke and being in a coma in a hospital.

Qahtani was serving his term at Riyadh’s Al-Hair reformatory prison. According to a press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on November 9, Qahtani had filed a complaint about an attack on him by other inmates inside the prison in late October. According to the UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, ever since the complaint was filed, his family lost communication with him.

Lawlor also stated that Qahtani was attacked by fellow prisoners repeatedly over the last several months, but the prison authorities refused to act on his repeated complaints. 

Adel al-Saeed of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) told Middle East Eye that Qahtani was finally transferred after the complaint last month. However, his family and lawyers were not informed about his whereabouts and they have failed to establish contact with him to this day. 

Lawlor had demanded that Saudi authorities inform Qahtani’s family members and lawyer about his whereabouts and his health condition and that his family members be able to meet him inside prison.

According to the Gulf Institute of Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), at least three human rights activists held by the Saudi authorities are now incommunicado and Qahtani’s “forceful disappearance” is nothing new in the country. 

Lawlor stated that incommunicado detention is a violation of the detainee’s rights under international law and raises possible threat of torture and ill-treatment.