(NEW YORK)- Today's court appeal by two members of a prominent Saudi Arabian human rights organization is a bid for justice amid a broader crackdown on activism in the Gulf kingdom, said Amnesty International.
On March 9, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced Mohammad al-Qahtani and Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid to 10 and 11 years' imprisonment, respectively. The conviction related to their role as co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA), for which they faced charges such as disobeying the ruler, founding an unlicensed organization, inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations, and harming the image of the state by disseminating false information to foreign groups.
"These men are prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa deputy program director at Amnesty International. "The charges levied against these men are founded on nothing but injustice and mark another attempt by the authorities to place a stranglehold on basic freedoms."
Abdul Aziz al-Hussan, the men's main defense lawyer, told Amnesty International that he believes the case against his clients is purely political, adding that the Saudi Arabian government's executive branch continuously interferes in the affairs of the judiciary and that "even though there are independent judges, the judicial system is not independent."
In its ruling in March, the court also ordered the disbanding of ACPRA, confiscation of its property and the shutting down of its social media accounts. Fowzan al-Harbi and Dr. Abdulkareem al-Khoder, other co-founders of the organization, have also been under investigation and face similar charges to their colleagues. Several other ACPRA members and founders have had travel bans imposed on them.
The Saudi Arabian authorities' move to dismantle ACPRA is part of a larger crackdown on human rights activists, bloggers and critics. No human rights organizations are authorized by the government other than the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a governmental body, and the National Society for Human Rights, which is also controlled by the state.
"The ongoing persecution of human rights activists shows alarming contempt by the government towards independent organizations," said Harrison. "The Saudi Arabian authorities must stop the harassment of activists, release prisoners of conscience, including Mohammad al-Qahtani and Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid, and allow human rights defenders to carry on with their legitimate work unhindered."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.