Saudi Arabia: Lawyer Mohammed Al Qahtani Victim of Violation of the Principle of Non-Trial of a Person Twice for the Same Facts

المحامي محمد بن فهد القحطاني

On 8 May 2023, a Saudi court decided to postpone the session of the academic and prominent lawyer, Mohammed bin Fahd Al Qahtani’s trial whose news was cut off before the end of his unfair sentence in November 2022. 

The wife of the Saudi activist noted on Twitter that the Specialized Criminal Court postponed the trial session, the charges against him and the reasons for not bringing him to court remaining unknown. She added that he is maintained in detention and prevented to communicate with his family or lawyer. 

"The retrial of prisoners of conscience who have completed their sentences is a flagrant violation of the principle that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime" said Alkarama's director, lawyer Rashid Mesli, calling for their immediate release and an end to the suffering of their families after all these long years of detention and ill-treatment. 

Al Qahtani's wife had launched an appeal to reveal the fate of her husband, about whom she had no news since the authorities cut off the usual phone call to his family. While the last phone call was scheduled for 24 October 2022, she did not receive any. 

Al Qahtani was placed in a section reserved for detainees suffering from mental illnesses in Al-Ha'ir prison in Riyadh, where he was physically assaulted by one of them in May 2022. He completed a 10-year prison sentence in connection with lawsuits related to his peaceful human rights activism. He was repeatedly harassed and ill-treated in prison. 

On December 2020 he went on hunger strike in protest to his prohibition to contact his family and to access to books and medicines. The victim's son, Omar Mohammed Al Qahtani, recently launched an appeal via video posted online calling for his father's release and highlighting part of his suffering. 

Alkarama’s activism 

Alkarama shares Al Qahtani's family's concern for his safety, and recalls that on 13 March 2013, it submitted a memorandum to the United Nations human rights mechanisms, in particular the Special Rapporteurs on the independence of the judiciary, on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, on freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, to ask them to intervene with the Saudi authorities to demand the release of Mr. Mohammed Fahad Al Qahtani and put an end to the harassment of human rights activists. 

In response to the deteriorating situation in Saudi Arabia and the authorities' failure to comply with the recommendations of the experts of the Committee against Torture, Alkarama submitted on June 2021, a follow-up report in which it stressed several cases it had previously worked on, and called on the Committee to address the State party regarding the situation of human rights defenders sentenced to harsh prison sentences. Alkarama called on the Committee to enquire Saudi Arabia whether it would consider releasing people arbitrarily detained for their peaceful criticism and their defense of human rights, including academic Mohammed Al Qahtani. 

UN Opinion confirms arbitrary nature of detention of Al Qahtani and his companions 

In November 2015, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published its Opinion (38/2015) regarding the case of nine Saudi activists arrested in connection with their human rights and expression activism, including Mohammed Al Qahtani. 

Despite repeated calls for his release by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as his case raised twice in the UN Secretary-General's annual report on reprisals, Al Qahtani remains in detention. 

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