Abdullah Al-Hamid (left), with fellow 2018 Right Livelihood Award Laureates Waleed Abu Al-Khair (centre) and Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani (right). Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Ahmed al-Osaimi (Blurred from Original)

Saudi human rights defender Mohammad Al-Qahtani forcibly disappeared

Right Livelihood is deeply concerned about the situation of 2018 Laureate Mohammad al-Qahtani, who has been subjected to enforced disappearance since October 24, 2022. the Saudi authorities have refused been refusing to provide any details about his whereabouts or health status, despite numerous inquiries by his family. Al-Qahtani is to be released on November 22, almost ten years after his arbitrary arrest. 

Mohammad al-Qahtani is a prominent Saudi human rights defender. He received the Right Livelihood Award in 2018 for his commitment to promoting human rights and advancing democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia. Together with the late Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, who died in custody due to medical neglect, he created the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), which remains banned in the country. Mr. al-Qahtani was sentenced on March 9, 2013, by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyad to 10 years of imprisonment and a 10-year travel ban on twelve counts, all related to his human rights work. In 2015 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed his detention arbitrary and called for his release. 

Throughout his detention, Mr. al-Qahtani has been subjected to harassment and ill-treatment and has been regularly prevented from contacting his family, receiving books and accessing essential medication. He underwent multiple hunger strikes to denounce his mistreatment, which also included being held in a ward alongside mentally ill prisoners. However, he saw little improvement to his condition. Despite having alarmed the authorities about the dangerousness of such a situation, he was kept in the same ward, which eventually led to his assault and harassment, in May 2022, and more recently, on October 10, by two psychiatric prisoners. 

Maha al-Qahtani, his wife, publicly expressed concerns about al-Qahtani’s disappearance after their regular communication was interrupted. In their last phone call, dating October 23, 2022, her husband did not mention the possibility of being transferred to another prison or another wing of al Ha’ir prison. Yet, on October 30, the prison administration told her that her husband was not in his cell and had in fact been transferred. In an attempt to get more information, Ms. al-Qahtani tried multiple times to reach out to the prison administration, but all her calls were left unanswered as officials hung up when hearing her voice. 

Mr. al-Qahtani’s prison term is due to end on November 22, 2022. Without due international attention and pressure, there are serious concerns that the Saudi authorities could detain him beyond this date or retry him on new grounds in an attempt to further silence him.

We urgently call on the Saudi authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts and conditions of Mohammad al-Qahtani and to release him immediately and unconditionally along with all other arbitrarily detained prisoners, including Right Livelihood Laureate Waleed abu-al Khair. 

In order to become internationally credible, Saudi Arabia must guarantee a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders, and allow them to carry out their peaceful work without fear of intimidation and reprisals. Lastly, we call on all States and relevant international actors to use any means available to them to urge Saudi Arabia to align with into aligning with its international obligations.