Saudi Arabia: Al Hawali's relatives condemned to harsher sentences in retaliation

الدكتور سفر الحوالي وأولاده

The Saudi Court of Appeals has, in retaliation, doubled the prison sentences of several relatives of the prominent preacher Safar bin Abdulrahman AL HAWALI for refuting the charges and refusing the injustice suffered.

According to Saudi human rights sources, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling to increase the sentence issued against Saadallah Al Hawali, brother of Dr. Safar Al Hawali, from 4 to 14 years.

It also ruled to increase the sentences issued against the sons of Al Hawali as follows: Abdulrahman Al Hawali from 7 years to 17 years, Abdullah Al Hawali from 6 to 16 years, and Abdulrahim Al Hawali from 6 years to 15 years.

When asked about these recent convictions, Alkarama's director, Rachid MESLI, noted that "The Saudi authorities, through the harsh penalties issued by the appeal, aim to deprive victims of the right to appeal, as part of a systematic policy aimed at giving the impression to United Nations human rights experts that the decisions rendered are fair."

In December 2022, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) again called on the Saudi authorities to immediately release prominent religious scholar Safar bin Abdulrahman Al Hawali (70), arbitrarily detained since 12 July 2018 after publishing a book in which he criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s international policy choices and issued recommendations to his attention.

State security forces have arrested Al Hawali's sons and brother as a form of revenge and further intimidation. Since his arrest, Al Hawali who has been denied proper care despite his speech impairment and his extremely fragile health was also cut of contact with the outside world.

Long and continuous persecution of religious scholar and his relatives by Saudi authorities

Al Hawali is a prominent religious scholar and a member of the Saudi reform movement (or what is known as the "Islamic Awakening"). Contemporary intellectuals involved in this movement, which emerged in the fifties, have openly criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his policies. The Sahwa movement was targeted in the context of the Crown Prince's crackdown on freedom of expression against other scholars as well, including prominent reformist figure Salman Al Awdah.

Safar Al Hawali and his sons Abdullah, Abdelrahman, Ibrahim, Abdelrahim and his brother Saadallah were all arrested by the authorities between 11 and 13 July 2018. Safar Al Hawali and his son Ibrahim (who was later released) were arrested on the morning of 12 July when State Security Intelligence (SSI) officers arrived in an ambulance and raided their home in the village of Hawala. Safar Al Hawali was taken blindfolded with his son to an unknown location. On the same day, state security forces arrested his younger brother Saadallah at his home.

Since his arrest, Mr. Al Hawali has had very few opportunities to communicate with his family. Due to his severe speech impairment, he cannot communicate via phone calls, and the authorities have taken no measures whatsoever to facilitate Mr. Al Hawali's contact with his family or legal counsel. Moreover, the State Security Prosecution arbitrarily allowed sporadic family visits.

This ill-treatment is particularly harsh, given that Mr. Al Hawali suffers a recurrent stroke that has led to permanent speech impairment, making it impossible for him to speak clearly or understand. He also suffers from a pelvic fracture and kidney failure that requires constant medical care. Mr. Al Hawali's health deteriorated severely immediately after his arrest. Despite his disability, old age and deteriorating health, he has since been denied medical care and held incommunicado.

As a form of punishment for his criticism of the crown prince, Safar Al Hawali is effectively left to die slowly in detention, isolated from the outside world and his loved ones, and living in fear of harassment and threats to his relatives.

Alkarama's complaint and urgent action before the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In light of these facts, and given that Safar Al Hawali's health condition constitutes a disability that does not allow him to speak or take care of himself, Alkarama decided to refer the case to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On 12 October 2020, Alkarama submitted a complaint to this UN Committee, highlighting the Saudi authorities' insistence on persecuting the religious scholar and his relatives.

The complaint emphasized that Mr. Al Hawali's life was under imminent, severe, and irreversible threat due to the high risk of the elderly developing an acute illness after contracting COVID-19.

Accordingly, Alkarama requested the Committee to address directly with the authorities the issue of reprisals against Mr. Al Hawali and his family. Under its conventional obligations, Saudi Arabia must immediately release Safar Al Hawali and his family members and cease all forms of harassment and intimidation against them.

Repeated requests by UN experts for the immediate release of Al Hawali, in vain

By filing a complaint with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Alkarama has taken up the case through the strongest United Nations action available, Saudi Arabia having accepted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under which individual complaints may be filed. In this respect, when particularly vulnerable persons are victims of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, the victim's representatives may, given the urgency of the situation, file a complaint and request "emergency measures".

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities allows to require Saudi authorities to urgently take necessary action even before the facts of the case are considered. Under article 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the State party may be requested to take interim measures to avoid irreparable harm to the author if his or her detention continues, while the case remains under consideration by the Committee.

On this basis, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities asked the Saudi authorities, among other things, to "arrange for the immediate release of Al Hawali." This release must ensure his safety and ensure that every precaution is taken to avoid any eventual harm. Furthermore, the state must ensure that Safar Al Hawali receives appropriate medical care at home or at any other medical institution it may choose.

As a clear form of retaliation and punishment against Al Hawali and his relatives, Saudi authorities have repeatedly refused to respond to requests made first in November 2020 and then again in December 2022.

Alkarama will continue to exert pressure through international legal mechanisms until Mr. Al Hawali and his family members are finally released and the persecutions stop.