[The following report was published by the Gulf Center for Human Rights on 23 April 2017.]
Saudi human rights defender Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi has called for international support after being forced to leave Saudi Arabia for Qatar.
He said, "I call on the international community to protect me under the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and to either resettle me in Qatar or to be resettled in a third country because my life is in danger." Al-Otaibi was forced to leave his country, and arrived in Qatar on 30 March 2017, after his case was referred to the Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to deal with terrorism-related cases but is often used to try human rights defenders and other activists.
Al-Otaibi, 49, began his human rights work in Saudi Arabia in 1996. He participated in several online forums and discussions between 1999 and 2016. He also signed a number of statements demanding the protection of civil and human rights of citizens, the release of prisoners of conscience and reform between 2006 and 2015.
He was first arrested on 01 January 2009 and charged with attempting to initiate a peaceful protest against the attack on Gaza and was released only on 11 June 2012. He had remained in prison for almost three years and seven months without a trial. A travel ban was imposed on him after his release for five years until 01 January 2017.
In April 2013, Al-Otaibi co-founded the Union for Human Rights in Riyadh, whose main objectives were to defend the rights of citizens, spread the culture of human rights, abolish the death penalty, and to strengthen the role of women in society. After 28 days of hard work within this organisation, that included monitoring the trials of human rights defenders and releasing explanatory statements about the hearings, and the publication of appeals on human rights violations, Al-Otaibi was summoned by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Riyadh. He was summoned along with the other founding members of the Union for Human Rights, Abdullah Al-Attawi, Abdullah Faisal Al-Harbi, and Mohammed Ayeth Al-Otaibi. They were called upon to freeze the work of their organisation in return for their freedom and the promise not to refer the case to trial, which forced them to agree so that they could go and work individually and in their personal capacities.
Before the summons, they had sent a letter to the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs asking him to give a permit for their organisation to work. The Minister replied in a letter saying, "the Ministry does not have a system that allows human rights organisations to work and it proposes to wait until the approval of the civil society law." The civil associations’ law remained in the Council of Ministers for seven years after it was sent by the Shura Council in October 2008 – which took two years to review it – and therefore was not put in place until November 2015. Yet, this law still doesn’t recognize the work of human rights.
Al-Otaibi continued his human rights activities between 2013 and 2016, when he issued several appeals and reports on human rights violations, prisoners of conscience and trials of human rights defenders. Among his work was a statement in 2014 entitled "Seeing the Solution in Qatif Events" in which he showed his support to the right to peaceful protest and opposed the use of violence. He also participated in a number of television interviews, including in 2014 on Al-Hurra TV news channel in which he talked about the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Saudi Arabia that year.
On 15 May 2015, three weeks before his marriage, he was summoned by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Riyadh, where he met with the president. He was asked to freeze his human rights work, especially his media appearances and publishing statements, or face detention and a trial. He agreed to freeze these activities but continued to support behind the scenes various human rights activities.
On 08 December 2016, he was referred to the Specialised Criminal Court where he was charged with several counts, including working in an unlicensed society, signing and publishing statements, practicing human rights activities which forced him to leave the country to Qatar.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi was targeted solely for his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. GCHR considers that Al-Otaibi faces the risk of forced deportation from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, where he faces arrest, unfair trial, and the possibility of torture, and demands that international mechanisms, including the United Nations, provide him with immediate protection.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights calls upon the Qatari government and other governments with influence in the region and international mechanisms, including the UN, to:
1. Provide full protection to human rights defender Mohammed Al-Otaibi as long as he lives in Qatar;
2. Prevent his forcible deportation to Saudi Arabia from his residence in Qatar; and
3. Allow him to leave to a safe third country as soon as possible.
GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) which states that: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”