Saudi authorities silence human rights defenders with increasingly long prison sentences

News 20.09.2022

People standing up for human rights in Saudi Arabia face increasingly lengthy prison sentences, including decades of arbitrary detention for expressing their views on social media, Right Livelihood warned the UN Human Rights Council in a joint statement with ALQST for Human Rights and MENA Rights Group on Monday.

Read the statement here.

Addressing the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during the 51st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, our statement highlighted the plight of Right Livelihood Laureates Mohammed al-Qahtani and Waleed Abu al-Khair, who are currently serving 10 and 15 years in prison respectively on activism-related charges.

“While they were among the first to be sentenced under anti-terrorism legislation, this has become routine for the Saudi authorities, who are now worryingly increasing the length of sentences handed down to individuals exercising their freedom of expression,” the statement said.

We also drew attention to the recent cases of Saudi academic Salma al-Shehab and another woman activist, Nourah al-Qahtani, who had been sentenced to 34 and 45 years respectively for posting messages on social media in support of human rights.

“These lengthy sentences are spent in inhumane prison conditions and are followed by travel bans of the same length, in yet another attempt to silence and intimidate activists,” we said.

As countries move to normalise diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, the attention must remain on demanding the protection of human rights in the kingdom.

“Hence, we reiterate our calls on the Council to urge Saudi Arabia to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained immediately and unconditionally,  providing them with compensation and rehabilitation for the harm suffered,” the statement said.

Al-Qahtani and al-Khair received the Right Livelihood Award in 2018 together with Abdullah al-Hamid for their pursuit of democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia. All three were serving prison sentences for their activism already at the time of receiving the Award. Al-Hamid passed away in prison in 2020.

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