Saudi Arabia: Alkarama shares concern of the family of prominent activist Dr Muhammad Al-Qahtani who has been cut off from all contact

محمد القحطاني

The wife of prominent Saudi Arabian prisoner of conscience Dr Muhammad Al-Qahtani has called for the disclosure of her husband’s fate who has been cut off from all telephone contact. The authorities cut off his usual telephone contact with his family, which was scheduled for October 24.

Maha Al-Qahtani, wife of university human rights defender Muhammad Al-Qahtani, said on her Twitter page, "My husband did not call today (Oct. 24, 2022) as usual, which made us worried. I hope he was not prevented from enjoying his right to contact us after he filed a complaint with the prison administration for harassment and abuse within the ward."

In detention in the prison Al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh, Al-Qahtani had been transferred to a wing of the prison where inmates suffering from psychological disorders are kept. Last May, he was physically assaulted by one of them.

Al-Qahtani is serving a 10-year prison sentence on the grounds of his peaceful human rights activities. By the end of November 2022, he is expected to have served his sentence.

Harassed and abused repeatedly during his detention, he announced a hunger strike in December 2020 to protest against authorities' refusal to let him contact his family and receive books and medicine.

Alkarama's action

Alkarama shares the concerns of the Al-Qahtani family regarding his safety and recalls that on 13 March 2013, it submitted a communication to the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteurs on the independence of the judges and lawyers, on the situation of human rights defenders, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, to intervene with the Saudi authorities to urge them to release Mr. Muhammad Fahd Al-Qahtani and to cease all harassment of the human rights activist.

Given the deteriorating situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and the lack of implementation by the authorities of the recommendations of the Committee against Torture's experts, Alkarama submitted a follow-up report in June 2021, in which it recalled several cases it had already worked on.

Alkarama had recommended that the State Party look into the situation of human rights defenders sentenced to long prison terms. At Alkarama's request, the Committee had addressed the issue by asking Saudi Arabia whether it was considering releasing those arbitrarily arrested for their peaceful criticism of the authorities or for defending human rights, as in the case of the academic Muhammad al-Qahtani.

UN special procedures confirms arbitrariness of Al-Qahtani and his companions’ deprivation of liberty

In November 2015, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its Opinion No. 2015/38 regarding the case of nine Saudi activists, including Muhammad Al-Qahtani, who were arrested in connection with their human rights activities and right to expression. Following the government's response, the Working Group confirmed the arbitrary nature of their detention, indicating that the appropriate remedy for their situation would be their release.

Despite repeated calls by the UN Working Group for the release of the detainees, and despite the fact that his case was mentioned twice in the UN Secretary General's annual report on reprisals, Al-Qahtani remains in detention to this day.

Al-Qahtani was awarded the Right Livelihood Award 2018 along with two other Saudi human rights defenders, Abdullah Al-Hamid and Waleed Abu Al-Khair, "for their luminous efforts and courage, guided by the principles of universal human rights."