31 May 2017 – Between 24 and 25 May, Qatari authorities forcibly deported Saudi human rights defender Mohammed Abdullah al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia, where he faces an unfair trial and possible ill-treatment due to his peaceful activism. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the Qatari government’s actions and calls on Saudi Arabia to immediately drop all charges against al-Otaibi and ensure his safety and wellbeing.
Mohammed al-Otaibi fled to Qatar from Saudi Arabia on 30 March 2017, shortly after the expiration of a five-year travel ban Saudi authorities imposed upon him for his involvement in a peaceful protest in 2009. He currently faces a series of charges that have been described by human rights groups as “ludicrous,” and which relate to his work with the Union for Human Rights (UHR), a short-lived human rights organization al-Otaibi co-founded in 2013. These charges include “participation in drafting, issuing, and signing a number of statements…offending the reputation of the kingdom,” establishing an organization without the proper authorization, and “making international human rights organizations hostile to the kingdom.” Al-Otaibi could face between 5 and 15 years in prison and a fine equivalent to approximately US$800,000 on these charges. In December 2016, Saudi authorities referred al-Otaibi’s case to Riyadh’s Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror court that is frequently used to prosecute peaceful dissidents.
Shortly after al-Otaibi fled to Qatar, Saudi authorities contacted him in order to request his location and inform him that his next trial session was scheduled for 25 April in Riyadh. Upon learning that he was in Qatar, Saudi authorities reportedly began pressuring the Qatari government to deport al-Otaibi. At the same time, al-Otaibi called for international protection under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. A number of human rights organizations issued statements urging the Qatari authorities to refuse requests to extradite al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia on account of the illegitimate charges against him and the possibility that Saudi authorities might subject him to torture or ill-treatment.
On 28 May 2017, it was reported that Qatari authorities had deported al-Otaibi back to Saudi Arabia as he was on his way to Norway, which had agreed to provide him and his wife with travel permits as UN refugees. The Norwegian foreign ministry confirmed this on 30 May, saying that Qatar’s decision was “regrettable” and that Norway was “concerned by the situation.”
The Qatari government’s extradition of al-Otaibi contravenes international human rights law. Under Article 58 of the Qatari constitution and Article 28 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, the Qatari government is prohibited from deporting a political refugee. International human rights law includes the principal of non-refoulement, which prohibits states from extraditing individuals to a place where they may face a risk of torture or other serious human rights abuses. Qatar is also a state party to the Convention against Torture, which includes a similar prohibition.
“Qatari authorities’ decision to deport Mohammed al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia despite the farcical charges against him and the Saudi government’s record of abusing and imprisoning human rights defenders is abhorrent,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “It is now incumbent upon the international community to not only monitor al-Otaibi’s situation, but to demand that the Saudi government releases him, drops the shameful charges against him, and allows him to travel freely.”
ADHRB unequivocally condemns Qatar’s deportation of Mohammed al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian government continues to target human rights defenders for engaging in peaceful activism, and Qatar’s extradition of al-Otaibi represents an example of the sharing of worst practices amongst Gulf Cooperation Council countries. ADHRB calls upon the Saudi government to drop its case against al-Otaibi and urges the international community to pressure Saudi authorities to ensure that al-Otaibi’s charges are dropped.