Saudi Arabia must release all imprisoned human rights defenders, Right Livelihood says in joint statement

News 20.09.2021

No human rights defender should be behind bars for promoting democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, Right Livelihood said on Monday in a joint statement during a UN debate on arbitrary detentions, raising attention to imprisoned Right Livelihood Laureates Mohammed al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair.

Read the entire statement.

Right Livelihood delivered the statement on behalf of partner organisations ALQST, International Service for Human Rights and MENA Rights Group at a dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

 “We remain deeply concerned at the systematic practice of arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents in Saudi Arabia, who are subjected to persecution and prosecution only for exercising their fundamental rights and advocating for the dignity, equality and freedom of others,” the statement said.

Right Livelihood Laureates Mohammed al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair are among those paying a high price for promoting democratic changes in Saudi Arabia, serving 10 and 15 years in prison respectively on activism-related charges.

“Despite the Working Group’s findings that their deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and its repeated calls for their release, they are still languishing in prison, in extremely poor conditions, subjected to ill-treatment, and medical and administrative neglect,” Right Livelihood said.

The statement called on the Working Group to renew their request for a country visit as a matter of urgency. The Human Rights Council should also urge Saudi Arabia to release all human rights defenders who are currently arbitrarily detained and provide them with compensation and rehabilitation.

During the debate, Elina Steinerte, Chair Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, called on states to put an end to the practice of silencing human rights defenders for their work, underlining that about a third of all communications issued by the Working Group are related to human rights defenders. 

Several participants, including the European Union and Latvia on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States, also called on all countries to ensure that human rights defenders do not see their liberty taken as a result of their activities. The United Kingdom underlined that such actions were a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and they only undermined trust in institutions.

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