Saudi Arabia: More abuse against Muhammad Al-Otaibi despite a UN decision to release him
As part of its ongoing repressive policies against peaceful activists, the Saudi authorities have increased the prison sentence against detained activist Muhammad Abdullah Al-Otaibi, adding three years to his main sentence (for travelling to Qatar in 2017).
This brings the total sentence to 17 years, following a sham trial before the Specialised Criminal Court which ignores an Opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) based on a complaint submitted by Alkarama, calling for the immediate release of Al-Otaibi, who was arrested at Doha's Hamad International Airport by Qatari security forces on 24 May 2017 and forcibly deported to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 28 May 2017.
Lawyer Rachid Mesli, Alkarama's Legal Director, explained that "the Court of Appeal's addition of a new charge and imposition of a sentence is a violation of the principle of appeal, adding that Alkarama will be reapplying to the United Nations Special Procedures regarding the activist Al-Otaibi", Alkarama considers the harsher sentence as a revenge and a confirmation of the increasing repressive campaign launched by the Saudi authorities against activists, intellectuals and political opponents since Mohammed bin Salman assumed the post of Crown Prince in the Kingdom.
The UN experts, in their resolution No. 68/2018, described Al-Otaibi's arrest as arbitrary, considering it the result of the exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of expression and association. The UN team called for his immediate release, compensation for the damages he suffered and an independent investigation into the violation of his rights.
On 25 January 2018, as a result of his peaceful human rights activism, including the establishment of a human rights association, Al-Otaibi was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment following an unfair trial before the Specialised Criminal Court. He was convicted and sentenced for his criticism and social media posts under Article 6 of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment for "producing anything that may undermine public order, religious values, public morals and the sanctity of private life".
He was also charged with "establishing an illegal association" and "spreading chaos and inciting public opinion against the state" because of his establishment of the association "Union for Human Rights" with Abdullah Al-Atawi, which aims to promote the values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The WGAD stressed that Al-Otaibi's detention and imprisonment for his critical comments on the Internet was clearly the result of the exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression. In addition, the UN experts expressed their concern about the Saudi government's persecution of Al-Otaibi and his colleagues for their attempt to promote the values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The government has provided no justification for refusing to register the association. This also prompted the WGAD to confirm that the prosecution and conviction of Al-Otaibi for his involvement in the founding of his association constitutes a violation of his fundamental right to freedom of association.
In addition, Al-Otaibi was held incommunicado for over two weeks. During this period, he was denied contact with his family and access to medical care. Al-Otaibi was then held in solitary confinement for three months and denied access to his lawyer throughout the investigation and until the trial began. Al-Otaibi did not appear before a judicial authority until 12 July 2017 and the Specialised Criminal Court, in a closed session, sentenced Al-Otaibi to 14 years' imprisonment on the above charges on 25 January 2018.
The WGAD concluded that Al-Otaibi's detention lacked a legal basis and was in clear violation of international fair trial standards, rendering his detention arbitrary. The Working Group also considered that Al-Otaibi's detention was arbitrary as it resulted from the legitimate exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
In accordance with its working methodology, the UN team submitted Al-Otaibi's case to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, for appropriate action. In turn, Alkarama reiterates the need for Saudi Arabia to comply with the call contained in the resolution of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and immediately release Al-Otaibi, and grant him his right to compensation. We add, that we will continue our efforts with the UN Special Procedures and provide them with any new information regarding this and other cases of arbitrary detention in the Kingdom. We will also continue our campaign to defend Al-Otaibi, all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia.