[The following press release was issued by the Alkarama Foundation on 9 March 2014]
Saudi Arabia: On One-Year Anniversary in Prison, Prominent Human Rights Defenders are on Hunger Strike
On 9 March 2013, Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani, two prominent Saudi human rights defenders, were sentenced by the Riyadh Criminal Court to heavy prison sentences for inter alia "disobeying the ruler", "inciting disorder", "setting up an unlicensed organization" and having shared "false information presented as facts to official international bodies". On Monday 3 March 2014, they began a hunger strike to protest against the conditions of their detention in Al-Hayer Prison where they are currently imprisoned. On the 1st anniversary of their sentence, Alkarama urges the Saudi authorities to immediately release them as they are solely detained for having peacefully expressed their opinion and defended the most basic rights of their fellow citizens.
Abdullah Al Hamid and Mohammad Al Qahtani are both co-founders of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), the only independent human rights organization in the Kingdom. ACPRA was created in October 2009 by eleven Saudi human rights activists to protect and to promote civil and political rights in a country where political parties and civil society organizations are legally forbidden and where thousands of individuals have been unlawfully detained for years. ACPRA has provided assistance to hundreds of families of individuals arbitrarily detained and developed an efficient and strong network of human rights activists.
Mohammad Al Qahtani and Abdullah Al Hamid were respectively sentenced one year ago to ten and eleven years of imprisonment by the Riyadh Criminal Court. The judge said that their presence outside prison was `dangerous` and ordered their immediate arrest. Both were sent to Al Hayer prison, a maximum-security detention facility located about 30 km from Riyadh and Saudi Arabia`s largest prison. In January 2014, their sentences were upheld by the Court of Appeal. Two days later, their legal representatives came to Al Hayer prison to meet with them but they were denied access to the prison.
On Monday 3 March 2014, Mohammad Al Qahtani and Al Hamid began a hunger strike to protest against the deterioration of their conditions of detention after the prison authorities arbitrarily decided to transfer them to a prison cell posing a serious threat to their health. According to ACPRA, they were put in solitary confinement following the prison authorities` modus operandi when prisoners go on hunger strike.
In two years, ACPRA was subjected to severe repression by the Saudi authorities: most of its founding members were arrested and sentenced to harsh sentences following unfair trials. Alkarama has continuously kept the UN human rights mechanisms informed about the reprisals against ACPRA human rights defenders and asked them to intervene with the Saudi authorities.
"What the Saudi authorities have been trying to do over the past few years is to clamp down on peaceful human rights defenders by beheading the ACPRA, the only independent NGO in the Kingdom", said Alkarama`s Legal director Rachid Mesli today. "But the only thing they will manage to do is to encourage the young generations of Saudi human rights activists to sustain the struggle initiated by their elders and pursue ACPRA`s mission."
Alkarama urges the Saudi authorities to release immediately Al Qahtani, Al Hamid and the other members of ACPRA detained solely for having defended the most basic rights of their fellow citizens.