Saudi Arabia: Arbitrary Detention of Yemeni Pilgrims Brought Before the UN

Yemenis Victims

On 23 May 2023, Alkarama referred to the United Nations Special Procedures, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), the case of four Yemeni nationals arrested by the police on 23 April 2022 in the Taif region of southern Saudi Arabia under the pretext of being affiliated with the Houthi group in Yemen while on their way to "Umrah",  (religious pilgrimage) to Mecca. 

A totally arbitrary arrest 

Mr. Abdullah Moqbel Zayed Al OSIMI, Mr. Hemyar Abdullah Moqbel Al OSIMI, Mr. Mahmood Hamid Qaid AL BROUSHI and Mr. Arhan Moqbel Zayed Moqbel HAMAEELAH were all granted official visas to visit Saudi Arabia. On April 23, 2022, while on their way to Mecca, their vehicle was suddenly stopped by five police cars in the Aqbat area of Al Hada in Taif governorate. No explanation as to the reasons for their arrest was given and no arrest warrant was served. They were taken manu militari to Al Faisaliyah police station where they were told they were suspected of being affiliated with the Huthi militias. 

After 38 days of incommunicado detention during which they were subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, they were taken on 30 May 2022 to Al Masara Central Prison in Taif before being transferred again to Dhahban Prison in Jeddah on 22 June 2022. 

It was only after arriving at Al Masara Central Prison in Taif that they were allowed to contact their families to briefly announce that they were being held, and it was only on 5 December 2022, more than seven months after their arrest, that the four men received their first family visit at Dhahban prison in Jeddah. 

The unsuccessful requests of the Yemeni authorities 

The families of the victims have contacted several Yemeni government figures to request their intervention and obtain the release of their relatives and to testify that they have no contact with any militia, including the Houthis. 

The governor of Amran sent a letter to the Saudi authorities stating that the four Yemeni nationals do not belong to any armed militia, as did the Chief of Staff of the Yemeni National Army, who also referred the matter to the commander of the Saudi-led Coalition Support Forces in Yemen confirming the governor's letter. 

Despite these testimonies and interventions, the four victims were arbitrarily held in solitary confinement and subjected to a particularly harsh regime. 

UN Special Procedures seized by Alkarama 

Mandated by the families, Alkarama therefore approached the WGAD, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues and the Special Rapporteurs on torture and freedom of belief to urge Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the four victims. 

Increasing arrest of pilgrims, a serious attack on religious freedom 

Alkarama is now particularly concerned about the repeated arrests of pilgrims in recent years. Only recently, two Chinese pilgrims of Uyghur origin living in Istanbul, Aimidoula WAILI and Nuermaimaiti RUZE were arrested in Mecca by the Saudi police. 

Transferred to Riyadh in March 2023 and their families have not received any news since, Alkarama submitted an urgent appeal to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances on 10 May 2023, to shed light on their fate. 

Alkarama, which values the respect of religious freedom and the security of pilgrimage to the holy places of Islam, will not fail to raise this issue during the next Universal Periodic Review of Saudi Arabia to be held shortly under the auspices of the Human Rights Council.