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Saudi Arabia: Sentence of Prominent Human Rights Defender and ACPRA Member Essa Al Hamid Increased to 11 Years in Prison

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On 1 December 2016, Essa Al Hamid’s sentence was increased on appeal to 11 years in prison, a fine of 100.000 Riyals and a travel ban of 11 years for his peaceful human rights activism within the Saudi Civil and political Rights Association (ACPRA). Alkarama, concerned about the pattern of criminalisation of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, thus solicited the urgent intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (SR HRD), Michel Forst. He and the other 10 ACPRA members have all been arrested and prosecuted for having peacefully called for reforms in Saudi Arabia, documented human rights violations and communicated them to the UN human rights mechanisms.

Essa Al Hamid, a 48 year-old human rights activist and former president of ACPRA, has been targeted by the Saudi authorities on numerous occasions, most notably in 2007 when he was arrested and held without charge for his participation in a protest against prolonged pre-trial detentions in the Kingdom. In November 2013, he was summoned for interrogation and then charged with, inter alia, “participating in an illegal organisation” and “communicating with international organisations in order to harm the image of the State.” The last charge directly refers to ACPRA’s activity of communicating cases of human rights violations to the UN.

In June 2014, his case was first brought before the Buraydah Criminal Court, only to be transferred on his second hearing to the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, a court competent to try cases of state security and terrorism. This exceptional jurisdiction established in 2008 cannot be considered as independent as it is composed of a panel named by the Ministry of Interior. After 16 hearings, Al Hamid was sentenced in April 2016 to nine years in prison followed by a nine year travel ban. The activist appealed the SCC’s judgement but the court of appeal asked for an increase in his sentence. On 1 December 2016, his prison sentence as well as his travel ban were increased by two years.

“Tried as a terrorist for his human rights activism, Al Hamid is another victim of the Saudi systematic practice of arbitrary detention against any critic of the regime or any dissident voice,” says Julia Legner, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf at Alkarama. “Although he is still free, Alkarama fears that he will soon be arrested and made to serve his sentence like most of the ACPRA members, who are currently imprisoned for the same motives.”

Alkarama has thus communicated his case to the SR HRD urging him to request the Saudi authorities to refrain from enforcing Al Hamid’s sentence and to refrain from prosecuting human rights defenders in reprisals for their human rights activism.

Finally Alkarama wishes to recall that Saudi Arabia is, for the third time, a member of the Human Rights Council, and as such cannot punish its citizen for utilizing the human rights mechanisms put in place by the very body it is a member of.

Read our full report on How Saudi Arabia shuts down its most vocal critics here.

For more information or an interview, please contact media@alkarama.org (Dir: +41 22 734 1008).