Human Rights Watch – Peaceful Dissidents Imprisoned in Saudi Arabia

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Human Rights Watch reported on Fahad al-Fahad, a Saudi human rights activist, who has been in prison since April of 2016. All charges are related to peaceful activism.

There are over 20 prominent Saudi activists in long-term prison sentences due to similar peaceful activities, related to protest. Some include “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “inciting hostility against the state.”

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, was asked some questions in February of 2018, which was reported on by The Washington Post. One was about the consideration for the release of those imprisoned activists in Saudi Arabia.

Salman said, “If it works, don’t fix it,” while he would consider reforms. Freedom of speech is limited in Saudi Arabi on the topics of Islam and national security and the critiquing of people via mention of name, e.g. critiquing the crown prince and the national security of Saudi Arabia, Islam in doctrine and facticity, and then mentioning Salman by name all in one, or individually for that matter, would be a criminal act, or set thereof not covered as a protection for free speech.

The Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, stated:

As Mohammad bin Salman parades himself across the world spending millions to bill himself as a reformist, many Saudis are thrown in jail and forgotten for the ‘crime’ of calling for badly needed reforms…If the Saudi Crown Prince wants to do something that would warrant the reformist label, a good start would be the immediate release of imprisoned activists and dissidents who never should have been arrested in the first place.

al-Fahad is a former labor ministry consultant who was arrest on April 6, 2016. A terrorist court, known as the Specialized Criminal Court, is the court for peaceful dissidents.

Pause: a terrorist court is for peaceful dissidents, since 2014.

On June 2017, al-Fahad was sentenced to five years in prison plus a 10-year travel ban tied to a ban on media and writing work.

One Saudi activist with knowledge of the case told Human Rights Watch that the Saudi judge made the ban on writing for life. Now, al-Fahad is in al-Dhahban, a prison

What were the charges?

He was charged with violation of Saudi cybercrime law with critiques of the Saudi criminal justice system and government corruption. He also helped the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. He ‘sympathized’ with the members of the association. More activists are in prison circa 2018.

“On January 25, the court sentenced Mohammad al-Oteibi and Abdullah al-Attawi to 14 and 17 years respectively on charges of “forming an unlicensed organization” and other vague charges relating to a short-lived human rights organization they set up in 2013,” Human Rights Watch reported.

The purported crimes do not look like standard crime lists. Essam Koshak was sentenced to four years in prison and a four-year travel ban circa February 27 based on tweets.

The tweets called for an end to the discrimination against women. Issa al-Nukheifi was also sentenced to six years in prison for other critical tweets. They are in al-Malaz prison.

Other imprisoned activists include “Waleed Abu al-KhairAbdulaziz al-ShubailyMohammed al-QahtaniAbdullah al-HamidFadhil al-ManasifSulaiman al-RashoodiAbdulkareem al-KhodrFowzan al-HarbiRaif BadawiSaleh al-AshwanAbdulrahman al-HamidZuhair KutbiAlaa Brinji, and Nadhir al-Majed.”

For those members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, most have been prosecuted and jailed because they are activists. The organization was one of the first of its kind, a civic organization, and was calling for reforms to Islamic law.

The group was banned and dissolved in March of 2013. Human Rights Watch said, “The members faced similar vague charges, including disparaging and insulting judicial authorities, inciting public opinion, insulting religious leaders, participating in setting up an unlicensed organization, and violating the cybercrime law.”

Original publication in Medium.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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