Qatar must not deport human rights activist at risk of torture and persecution in Saudi Arabia
The Qatari authorities must not buckle to demands from Saudi Arabia if they request the deportation of human rights activist Mohammad al-Otaibi back to the country, where he is at risk of being imprisoned and tortured or otherwise ill-treated, said Amnesty International, ahead of a hearing by a Saudi Arabian court scheduled for Tuesday 25 April.
Mohammad al-Otaibi, a peaceful activist, and founder of a local human rights organization, is being tried in his absence before Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on a list of ludicrous charges. There are serious fears that he could be deported at any time. He told Amnesty International that Saudi Arabia’s secret police, known as al-Mabahith, have been calling him and asking about his whereabouts.
“Mohammad al-Otaibi, a former prisoner of conscience has already spent more than three and a half years unlawfully imprisoned for his human rights work. Forcibly returning him to Saudi Arabia where he is almost certain to be ill-treated and face another unfair trial and prolonged arbitrary detention would not just be cruel, it would be a blatant violation of Qatar’s international obligations,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research at Amnesty International’s Regional office in Beirut.
“Standing up for human rights is not a crime. Instead of relentlessly persecuting peaceful activists the Saudi Arabian authorities should drop the ludicrous charges against him and stop their systematic harassment of human rights defenders.”
Mohammad al-Otaibi fled to Qatar after the travel ban imposed on him from his previous conviction was lifted in February 2017. His current trial started on 30 October 2016 and he is being prosecuted on a long list of charges that include posting tweets deemed “offensive to the Kingdom, the ruler and Arab countries”, setting up an independent organization without authorization, giving interviews to the media and “inciting international organizations against the Kingdom”.
Under international law, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from transferring individuals to a place where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. Qatar has also ratified the UN convention against torture which prohibits states from extraditing any person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being tortured.
Saudi Arabia has an appalling record when it comes to holding flagrantly unfair trials, with people routinely denied access to lawyers and convicted based on forced “confessions” extracted through torture.