UN Special Procedures Publishes Allegation Letter to Saudi Arabia on Arbitrary Detention of Qatari Exchange Student

On 17 April 2019, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education published an allegation letter addressed to Saudi Arabia regarding the alleged arrest and continued detention of Qatari Exchange student Adbulaziz Saeed Saad Halwan Abdullah.

Abdullah is a Qatari exchange student from the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs that has been studying in Saudi Arabia since 2014. He is one of 44 Qatari exchange students studying in the kingdom who were allegedly informed that they were being expelled from the country. When the other exchange students returned to Qatar on 13 September 2018, they informed Abdullah’s family that the Saudi authorities had arrested, interrogated, and released them all except for Abdullah, who was still being detained in Saudi Arabia.

On 16 September 2018, Abdullah’s brother, Mohammed Saeed Saad Halwan Abdullah, reported to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) that his family had lost contact with his brother on 6 July 2018. On 30 December 2018, Mohammed updated the NHRC that Abdullah had contacted the family on 21 November 2018 and informed them that he was in good health and was being provided food. However, he was unable to answer his family’s questions as to why he had been arrested and detained, and did not know if he would be able to contact them again. Since then, no other communications from Abdullah have been received. Abdullah’s whereabouts and the reason for his detention remain unknown, raising questions about his physical and psychological welfare.

It is important to note that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a complete blockade on the country in 2017, claiming that Qatar supported terrorism. This continued regional crisis, which demonstrates increased tensions between the kingdom and Qatar, likely plays a role in the expulsion of Qatari students from Saudi Arabia and the continued detention of Abdullah.

The UN Special Procedures Urgent calls on the Saudi government to provide information on Abdullah’s whereabouts, including where he is being detained, under what charges, and whether or not he has been granted legal representation. They also called on the Saudi government to provide the legal grounds under which Abdullah and the other Qatari students were initially arrested, interrogated, and detained. In addition, Special Procedures requested information on how the expulsion of the 44 Qatari students is compatible with their right to education, as well as how their detention was compatible with international law.

Abdullah’s arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia is a clear violation of human rights under international law. Abdullah remains at risk of ill treatment while being detained, which poses serious concern for his health and safety. Saudi Arabia has responded to the allegation letter, but their response is yet to be translated.

Tovah Bloomfield is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB