If the Saudi judiciary follows its own guidelines, the Saudi human rights activist and economist Mohammad Fahad Muflih al-Qahtani should finally be freed in November after around ten years in prison. In any case, there is hope that he will be allowed to leave prison after serving his sentence. However, he would still have to stay in Saudi Arabia for a long time. In addition to the imprisonment, the court had also imposed a ten-year travel ban on him, which will come into effect immediately after his release.
According to various sources, al-Qahtani, who was born in 1965 or 1966 and was previously a professor at the Institute for Diplomatic Studies in Riyadh, was convicted for his human rights commitment: He is one of the initiators of the human rights organization “Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association” (ACPRA), founded in 2009 Organization calls for the implementation of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and the establishment of transparent and accountable legal institutions in Saudi Arabia.The NGO’s demand for a constitutional monarchy in particular has made it a dangerous challenge for the absolutist government Royal house in Riyadh.
The court made its judgment in 2013. According to a report by the human rights organization ‘Human Rights Watch’ (HRW), it was based on the following charges: “Betrayal of loyalty to the ruler”, “Spreading chaos and destabilizing public order”, ” Establishing an Unauthorized Organization”, “Challenging the Integrity of Public Officials”.
Is he really free?
According to human rights activist Lina al-Hathloul, head of communications for the London-based organization, al-Qahtani should actually be freed soon, according to purely legal aspects ALQST (“The Measure”), which campaigns for human rights in Saudi Arabia. “It would be difficult for the Saudi authorities to keep him in prison after the end of his sentence. That could create enormous pressure that they would not be able to cope with,” al-Hathoul told DW on the one hand.
On the other hand, a regular release from prison is unfortunately by no means a matter of course in Saudi Arabia, adds the human rights activist. “We have seen some cases where it was different. For example, the recently released Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayyadh remained in prison almost a year past the end of his sentence. We hope this does not become a trend,” said Lina al -Hathloul, who is also the sister of prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Lujain al-Hathlul. For years, the latter had fought against the ban on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia. She was arrested in 2018 and then spent almost three years in prison. She was released in February last year on the basis of the subsequent verdict. However, she is now under a five-year ban on leaving the country.
German politician as ‘godfather’
Mohammad al-Qahtani also has prominent advocates in Germany. For example, Rainer Keller, a member of the SPD parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, has taken on a sponsorship for al-Qahtani as part of the German Bundestag’s “Parliamentarians protect parliamentarians” program. This program is intended to benefit not only members of parliament who are under threat from all over the world but also human rights activists who have been harassed. The sponsorship can protect al-Qahtani, says Rainer Keller in an interview with DW. “Because on the political side, we can use it to create publicity. We also try to stand up for our godparents through diplomatic channels,” says Keller, who is also a member of the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid and rapporteur for Saudi Arabia.
The SPD politician also sees the sponsorship of al-Qahtani as a message: “The human rights violations in Saudi Arabia are inherent. Against this background, it is important for us as parliamentarians to keep raising these human rights violations as an issue.”
“Human rights violations must always be an issue”: Rainer Keller (SPD), member of the German Bundestag, has taken on a parliamentary sponsorship for the Saudi human rights activist al-Qahtani
criticism of the attitude of the West
Human rights activist Lina al-Hathloul agrees that international engagement is helpful for imprisoned Saudi human rights activists. It is unfortunate, however, that Western governments continue to support the Saudi system of rule. “Because of this support, our regime has survived so far – and massively increased the oppression of the population.” It commemorates the assassination of the Saudi journalist and human rights activist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in autumn 20919 – presumably with the knowledge of the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“Mohammed bin Salman was politically isolated after the murder,” said al-Hathloul. “But then he came back onto the international stage, thanks to the visit of US President Joe Biden last July, also thanks to the reception by French President Emmanuel Macron, also in July – and despite the fact that bin Salman was the repressor last strengthened.”
Back on the international stage despite human rights violations: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, here at a reception by French President Macron, July 2022
Decades of imprisonment for a few posts
Like Keller, al-Hathloul mentions the case of college student Salma al-Schehab, who was sentenced earlier this month to 34 years in prison and a subsequent 34-year ban from leaving the country. The woman studying in England was arrested during a trip to her home country in December 2020. Her crime: she “provided help to those who are trying to disrupt public order and destabilize state security by following them on Twitter”, according to the court documents translated by the British daily newspaper ‘The Guardian’. Among other things, Al-Schehab had shared and liked social media posts campaigning for the dismissal of other human rights activists.
A few days ago, another critical Saudi citizen, Noura bint Saeed al-Qahtani, sentenced to 45 years in prison. This was reported by the human rights organization ‘Dawn’, citing court documents. She wanted to “tear apart the social fabric (of the kingdom) with the help of the internet” and “violated public order” through the use of social media, quoted ‘Dawn’ from the court documents.
Cases like these show one thing, according to SPD man Rainer Keller: “Saudi Arabia is still a long way from what we defined as human rights standards.” According to al-Hathloul, the Western governments are called upon to do this: “They must be aware of the influence they have on the Saudi regime.” Because the crown prince can only survive if the western governments accept him. “If they do that, he sees that as a green light to push his ideas through. That also includes oppressing the Saudi population.”
According to al-Hathloul, the civil societies of the western states are all the more important. “You should take note of the statements made by Saudi human rights activists – and not believe everything the Saudi regime says about new plans to improve human rights.” Because these statements arose primarily from the regime’s concern for its image abroad.