Human rights circles gather that Saudi Arabia has turned into a “kingdom of silence” amidst an era of freedom suppression and persecution for expressing the opinion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has devoted over the years.
The Sanad Organization for Human Rights said that freedom of expression in the Kingdom had become one of the sensitive issues that the bin Salman regime deals with, as is the case with other crimes, as those expressing opinions are subjected to arbitrary arrest, abuse, defamation and harassment.
According to the organization, the expanding repression inside the Kingdom prompted activists and opponents to refrain from speaking and declaring or resorting to foreign countries in search of safety and freedom.
The organization emphasized that the Saudi suppression of freedoms reflects Bin Salman’s policy of repression, which was introduced five years ago.
It warned that the judiciary had become a tool of repression that the Saudi regime exploits to abuse activists and expressions of opinion in light of the government’s apparent disregard of international warnings about a further decline in the reality of rights and freedoms in the Kingdom.
A few days ago, the Right Livability International Human Rights Organization condemned the exposure of opinion activists to enforced disappearance and isolation from the outside world in Saudi prisons.
The organization expressed grave concern about the detainee of conscience, human rights activist Muhammad Al-Qahtani, who has been subjected to enforced disappearance since October 24, 2022.
The organization stated that the Saudi authorities refused to give details about Al-Qahtani’s whereabouts or health condition, despite numerous inquiries from his family.
Al-Qahtani is scheduled to be released on November 22, nearly ten years after his arbitrary detention and the end of his sentence.
Muhammad Al-Qahtani is a prominent Saudi human rights defender. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2018 for his commitment to promoting human rights and advancing democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia.
Along with the late Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, who died in custody due to medical negligence inside his prison, Al-Qahtani established the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), which is still banned in the country.
Al-Qahtani was sentenced on March 9, 2013, by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, to 10 years in prison and a 10-year travel ban on twelve charges related to his human rights work. In 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered his detention arbitrary and called for his release.
Al-Qahtani was subjected to harassment and ill-treatment throughout his detention and was regularly denied contact with his family, books, and essential medicines.
He also went on hunger strike several times to denounce his ill-treatment, including being held in a ward alongside mentally ill prisoners. However, he did not notice a slight improvement in his condition.
Despite alerting the Saudi authorities to the seriousness of such a situation, Al-Qahtani was held in the same ward, which eventually led to assault and harassment in May 2022 and, more recently, on October 10, by two imprisoned psychiatrists.
Maha al-Qahtani, the wife of a prisoner of conscience, publicly expressed her concerns about al-Qahtani’s disappearance after their regular contact was interrupted. However, in their last phone call on October 23, 2022, her husband did not mention the possibility of transferring him to another prison or wing of Al-Ha’ir prison.
However, on October 30, the prison administration told her that her husband was not in his cell and had already been transferred. To obtain more information, Al-Qahtani tried several times to contact the prison administration, but all her calls were not answered as the officials hung up upon hearing her voice.
Al-Qahtani’s prison term is scheduled to expire on November 22, 2022. However, without due international attention and pressure, there are serious concerns that the Saudi authorities may detain him after this date or re-try him on new grounds to silence him further.
The international organization urgently called on the Saudi authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts and conditions of Muhammad al-Qahtani and to release him immediately and unconditionally along with all other arbitrarily detained prisoners.
It also stressed that the Saudi authorities must ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders and allow them to carry out their peaceful work without fear of intimidation and reprisals.