Saudi Arabia: 4 years after the country's first human rights NGO founded, 8 of its members are behind bars

Four years ago, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, eleven human rights activists founded the Saudi association for civil and political rights (ACPRA), an independent human rights organization focusing on the immense issue of arbitrary detention in the kingdom. Despite a court order for its dissolution, ACPRA has been determinedly working with families of victims, encouraging them to stand up for their rights and file lawsuits against the Interior Ministry. Four years after its creation, eight of the organisation's members - all of whom have been cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms - are behind bars with sentences of up to 11 years of imprisonment for insulting the judiciary. After Saudi human rights defenders Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani, Abdullah Al-Hamid, Mohamed Saleh Al-Bjadi, Abdulkarim Youssef Al-Khodr, Suleiman Ibrahim Al-Rashudi, Omar Al-Said and Saleh Al-Ashwan, Fawzan Al-Harbi is the latest activist detained by the Saudi authorities as a result of his human rights work.
ACPRA's acting president Fawzan Al-Harbi was arbitrarily arrested on 26 December 2013 after his second hearing before the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh. He has been detained since then in Al-Malaz prison in very poor detention conditions.

He had been under investigation since 11 May 2013 with the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Riyadh. Mr Al Harbi was reportedly interrogated exclusively about his human rights activities, his online publications and accounts, his involvement with ACPRA and his relationships with other ACPRA members, human rights activists and detainees. At the time, he told Alkarama: "I expect to be arrested"...

Seven months later, Fawzan Al Harbi was summoned by the Special Criminal Court of Riyadh on 4 December 2013 for the first hearing of his trial and appeared of his own free will in front of the Court. He is accused of "formulating and spreading false information about the Saudi government" as well as "accusing the judiciary and the executive on the basis of fabricated accusations, questioning the integrity of judicial proceedings, defaming the security forces, and turning public opinion against the State authorities."

During the second hearing, which took place on 26 December 2013, Judge Omar Ben Ali Al Sahn ordered the arrest of Mr Al Harbi. This decision appears to be motivated by statements made by Mr Al Harbi during the first hearing, in which he recognized his membership of ACPRA and repeated calls he had made in the past for a greater respect of internationally recognized civil and political rights by the Saudi authorities. Despite the questions raised by Mr Al Harbi's lawyer on the legal basis of the decision taken by the judge, no answer was provided to him. During the third hearing which took place on 9 January 2014, the judge again refused to answer the lawyer's questions about the reasons of Mr Al Harbi's detention, telling him only that "the legal basis for the arrest decision will be provided in the final judgement".

On 22 January 2014, Alkarama submitted an urgent appeal to the UN Working group on arbitrary detention on his behalf to ask it to intervene with the Saudi authorities in order to obtain his immediate release.