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Arbitrary Detention

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 15 September 2015, Alkarama requested the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to issue an Opinion declaring the arbitrary character of Osama Al Najjar's detention.

On Monday 7 September 2015, Djameleddine Laskri entered its 24th year of arbitrary detention.

On 5 August 2015, Alkarama sent a communication to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (SRTruth) concerning the cases of Mahmoud Grida and Mohamed Boughedda, who both went missing following their respective arrests in the north-eastern

On 13 August 2015, Alkarama brought again to the attention of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) the case of Rami Shaher Abdel Jalil Al Mrayat, a Jordanian citizen arbitrarily detained in the United Arab Emirates since 19 November 2011.

In February 2015, the family of Tewfik Djaou, disappeared since his abduction in 1997 in Constantine by agents of the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), asked Alkarama to address the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRCtee) with a complaint regarding the disappearance of their son, in order to formally recognise the direct responsibility of the Algerian authorities and to obtain compensation.

On 18 May 2015, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (SUMX) regarding the sentencing to death of Mohamed Morsi, first democratically elected president of Egypt, together with 105 co-defendants for having escaped the Al Wadi Natrun prison during the 2011 revolution.

On 18 December 2014, less than a week after Layla and Tarek Issawi's return from Geneva where they had gone to receive the 2014 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders on behalf of their daughter, Shireen, still detained by Israel, their youngest son, Shadi, a law student, was re-arrested by the Israeli forces at a checkpoint. His arrest is part of a broad campaign of reprisals against the Issawi family.

Alkarama recalled the case of Mr Al Najjar to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders as he is to face his first hearing today, before the Federal Supreme Court which is famous for handling unfair trials.

On 29 August 2014, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health to ask the Egyptian authorities to accept Jamal Mohamed Assaed Tafeh's hospitalisation. Detained without trial in appalling conditions in Gamasa prison since 7 January 2014, the opposition member, who suffers from a serious heart disease that requires permanent medical attention, is at imminent risk of death.

On 15 April 2014, 34 year-old prominent Saudi human rights defender Waleed Abu Al Khair, went to his 5th hearing session before the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh. At 8 am, he made a last phone call to his wife in Jeddah, informing her he had to turn off his cellular phone as he was entering the court room. She learnt the day after that he had been taken in the middle of his hearing to Al Hayer Prison. This is where he has been unlawfully detained and tortured ever since.