Saudi Govt Accused of Using Judiciary to Silence Activists

Three prominent Saudi human rights activists are facing serious charges in a series of court cases that took place over the last few weeks. The latest of these cases was brought against Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), and someone who has been tirelessly working to promote human rights in the country and bravely criticizing government’s record on the subject. Al-Qahtani appeared in court in Riyadh earlier this week.

The public prosecutor accused him of eleven charges related to his activism. Here is a link to the public prosecutor’s memo (Arabic PDF); below is a translation of the charges against him:

  1. Attempting to plant the seeds of discord and strife, breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor, questioning the integrity of and insulting state officials.
  2. Questioning the integrity and piety of the members of the Senior Ulema Council by – falsely – accusing it to be a tool that approves government policies in return for financial and moral support as in the case of forbidding street protests.
  3. Accusing Saudi judiciary in its regulations and applications of being unable to deliver justice for breaching the standards set by Islamic Sharia.
  4. Accusing Saudi judiciary of being unjust by allowing torture and accepting confessions extracted under duress.
  5. Accusing the Saudi regime – unfairly – of being a police state built on injustice and oppression veiled in religion, and using the judiciary to legitimize injustice to continue its systematic approach to violate human rights.
  6. Inciting public opinion by accusing security bodies and their senior officials of oppression, torture, assassination, enforced disappearances, and violating human rights.
  7. Antagonizing international organizations against the Kingdom, and instigating them to focus on criticizing the Kingdom’s civic, political, economical, social and cultural fundamentals.
  8. Co-founding an unlicensed organization and making it appear as a reality by which he attempts to oppose state policy, spread divisiveness and disunity, spread accusations against the state’s judiciary and executive institutions and senior officials of injustice and transgressions; engaging in specialities that affect others’ rights and freedoms and the encroachment upon the specialties of governmental and non-governmental organizations (Human Rights Commission, National Society for Human Rights) and participating in writing statements released by them and publishing it on the internet.
  9. Preparing, storing and sending what could affect general order which is punishable by Section 1 in Article 6 of the E-Crimes law.
  10. Describing the General Intelligence body [mabaheth] as illegal militias.
  11. Providing false information as true facts and delivering them to official international bodies (UN Human Rights Council) which includes statements he delivered to these international organizations about proceedings regarding suing individuals that he gave which contradicts the truth and reality documented in official papers.

The two other activists facing similar charges, but in separate court cases, all pressed by the same public prosecutor, are Abdullah al-Hamed and Waleed Abu Al-Khair. In a gesture of support, they both attended the court hearing when al-Qahtani was accused of the charges listed above.

He remains defiant. “History is being written here,” al-Qahtani reportedly told his son after the court hearing, surrounded by 30 activists who were there.

Amnesty International said the case against al-Qahtani is part of part of a crackdown on human rights activists in the country and that it should be thrown out of court.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities’ trial of Mohammad al-Qahtani is just one of a troubling string of court cases aimed at silencing the Kingdom’s human rights activists,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program. The government must end its crackdown against activists, he said.

“This must come to an end and human rights defenders must be allowed to carry on their crucial work to expose human rights violations and call for justice and accountability.”

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Today’s Links

  • AP says that security forces has confiscated books of Abdullah al-Hamed, a well-known reformer, from stalls at Riyadh Book Fair. MOCI, unsurprisingly, denied that they know anything about it.
  • Speaking of security and censorship, rumor has it that starting this Tuesday BBM service will be disabled in Saudi Arabia. CITC has asked RIM to let them monitor the network but it seems unlikely that the Canadian company would allow it.

Greatness

More than 100 days have passed and Prof. Matrook al-Faleh is still detained following his arrest last May. His situation remains the same: in solitary confinement and yet to be allowed to meet his lawyer. No official statement has been released on why he was arrested, but it is widely accepted that his detention is related to an article he published online on the poor conditions of Buraida General Prison where fellow activist Abdullah Al-Hamed was jailed for the past six months.

Al-Hamed was serving a sentence by a court in Qassim which found him guilty on charges related to women’s demonstrations last summer. He has completed his sentence and was released few days ago. His friends hosted a dinner to celebrate his freedom earlier this week, and I was lucky to be invited and have the honor of meeting him and other political and social activists.

It was clear that he lost some weight, but his spirits were not shaken at all. He spoke briefly and thanked those who supported him. He also said that we must not forget about other jailed activists, especially the lesser known ones, who deserve to be defended too. Being jailed unfairly for a just cause is not a bad thing, he said, and for this nation to advance, some of us has to pay the price. When I was introduced to him, he talked to me fatherly and gave me some advice. He told me that I should never work alone, and that I must let my family and friends know about my activism so they can help me if something went wrong.

One important note he made and I want to emphasize here is that we, as citizens who want to reform our country, must learn how to work together, regardless of what differences we might have. Yes, we have liberals and Islamists, and they have different views on different issues, but in the end of the day there are also things we all agree on, like the importance of justice, representation and human rights. We should not allow our disagreement over some details drag us to bitterness and enmity.

I have no doubt that Abdullah al-Hamed is one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest men. Abu Bilal, as he is known among his friends, has been actively working for the past 20 years to make this country a better place, and despite all the hardships he has gone through over the this time, including jail and travel bans, he remains determined and committed to his message. His work is absolutely an inspiration to me and many people who share his dream of a brighter future for this nation.