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International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.
Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:
- When it is impossible to invoke any legal basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
- When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
- When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
- When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.
In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.
Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights.
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On 18 December 2016, Saudi State Security Forces arrested Issa Al Nukheifi, a prominent Saudi human rights defender and lawyer, after he had been summoned for interrogations by the same authority. On 17 January 2017, Alkarama addressed an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (SRHRD), Michel Forst, requesting him to call upon Saudi Arabia to immediately release Al Nukheifi.
On 5 January 2017, Ahmed Maher Ibrahim Tantawy, founder of the 6 April Youth Movement, was released after having served a three-year sentence. However, he remains under judicial supervision for three more years, a measure which entails that the activist must spend every night in police custody at his district police station from 6 pm to 6 am.
On 25 October 2011, Syrian political activist Mahmoud Al Merhi was arrested at an Air Force Intelligence checkpoint in Homs and remains disappeared since.
On 7 December 2016, Mudawi Ibrahim Adam Mudawi, a prominent Sudanese human rights defender, was abducted by members of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) at Khartoum University.
On 21 December 2016, Alkarama alerted the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the case of Mohamed Saber Mohamed Saber, an Egyptian man who disappeared on 12 September 2016. That day, Saber was abducted by members of the Police Forces at home in Alexandria, and has since gone missing, with the authorities denying any implication in his abduction and refusing to disclose his whereabouts.
On 20 December 2016, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concerning the case of Mohamed Saad Zekillah, a young student who was arrested on 9 November 2016 by the Homeland Security Forces. He was secretly detained for 17 days, during which he was repeatedly tortured. He reappeared on 23 November 2016, when he was brought before the Public Prosecutor of Alexandria and charged with “belonging to a terrorist group”.
Alkarama is deeply concerned by the ongoing crackdown against peaceful opposition politicians and demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan. This repression led to the arbitrary arrest and detention of dozens of political opponents by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in November 2016.
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.