HRDs criminalised for exercising freedoms of association and expression


Despite a 2015 law that theoretically allows independent NGOs to operate in Saudi Arabia, the authorities have continued to prosecute and target activists who attempt to establish civil society organisations. As reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW), in late October Saudi prosecutors filed criminal charges against two activists, Mohammad al-Otaibi and Abdullah al-Attawi, for “forming an unlicensed organisation” and other vague charges regarding a short-lived human rights organization, the Union for Human Rights, that they set up in 2013.


Human rights defenders have continued to be arbitrarily detained on fabricated charges for exercising legitimate activities in defence of human rights.

According to HRW, for instance, the charges levied against Mohammad al-Otaibi and Abdullah al-Attawi, accused of “forming an unlicensed organisation,” also included a violation of article 6 of the Saudi Cybercrime Law, which proscribes “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals, the sanctity of private life, or authoring, sending, or storing it via an information network,” and imposes penalties of up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to 3 million Saudi Riyals (USD 800,000).

As reported by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), on 30th October the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh held its first hearing in the trial of Mohammed Abdullah Al-Otaibi and Abdullah Al-Attawi. They were charged with establishing an association before obtaining official authorisation, participating in preparing and signing petitions and publishing them on the Internet, thereby harming the reputation of the Kingdom and its justice and security institutions, and publishing information about the investigation against them despite their pledge not to publish in order to influence public opinion. The court then adjourned until 27th December.

On 1st December, according to the GCHR, human rights defender Issa Al-Hamid, a founding member and former president of the Civil and Political Rights Association of Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 2 more years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Saudi Riyals (USD 26,605) for his peaceful activism and legitimate human rights work. On 24th April, the SCC in Riyadh had sentenced him to 9 years in prison followed by a travel ban of 9 years. As the accused appealed the sentence, the Court of Appeals replied with a suggestion to add 2 more years to the original sentence and a steeper fine in addition to increasing the subsequent travel ban to 11 years. Issa Al-Hamid is currently still free on a bail.

On 18th December, the GCHR reported that human rights defender Issa Al-Nukhaifi had been arrested in Saudi Arabia. The security forces in the Jizan region arrested and detained him pending interrogation at the Investigation and Prosecution Authority in Jizan city. On 6th December, Al-Nukhaifi had published on his Twitter account:

“I did not steal trillions, I did not buy a yacht and I did not buy a plane. I do not have a home for my children. I do not have a job after you took my job away and even my payment is late for the rented home so why the summons?” 

Reports suggested that his arrest was related to his recent online activities and his longtime anticorruption efforts in the Jizan region.

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