One year after the disappearance of Mohammed al-Qahtani: condemning Saudi Arabia for committing enforced disappearances

On 22 November 2022, Mohammed al-Qahtani had to be released after the ten years of questionable sentence he received. However, since October 2022, Saudi Arabian authorities have refused to give information about him despite the expiration of his sentence. The refusal of Saudi authorities to release him makes this a case of enforced disappearance for which Saudi Arabia has been called responsible at different times.

Al-Qahtani is a human rights defender and co-founder of the dismantled Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). The association’s objective was to promote the development of human rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia by proposing constitutional reforms. Predictably, the association was banned and dissolved by a court order in 2013. By 2016, the 11 founders of the ACPRA were sentenced for their human rights activism. On 9 March 2013Al-Qahtani was arrested arbitrarily and sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Criminal Court of Riyadh. The charges included allegations of inciting disorders and instigating international organizations against the Kingdom.

During his imprisonment, he was the victim of repeated harassment and ill-treatment, including beatings and torture. He was forcibly put in a wing of inmates with mental health issues that caused him to be assaulted. To protest against this treatment, he entered a hunger strike various times. Regarding incommunicado status, the Saudi Arabian authorities denied disclosing information in April 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19. The family believes that the Saudi authorities use this strategy to hide information about the condition of his health.

Regarding the issue of enforced disappearance that many NGOs are denouncing, his case does not stand in a vacuum. There is a trend in Saudi Arabia to increase the sentences of prisoners of conscience. Alternatively, the treatment directed at human rights activists becomes more tragic. Abdullah al-Hamid, co-founder of ACPRA in April 2020, was found dead as a result of medical negligence. And Musa al-Qarni was the victim of a contested political murder in his prison. About the disappearance of al-Qahtani on 30 October 2022, his wife called the prison to ask about his release status. The officers affirmed that he was transferred to another prison, refusing to disclose any other information. The suspect for this treatment against Al-Qahtani allegedly came as a reprisal to his decision to file individual complaints for the conditions of his detention.

 It is urgent to call for a reaction against the government of Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described al-Qathani’s detention as arbitrary and demanded his release. Since 2020, the UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance found in Saudi Arabia a pattern of enforced disappearances accompanied by the use of torture against political dissidents. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor confirmed that Saudi authorities accused him of providing false information before UN human rights mechanisms. Therefore, we demand the international community to demand the Saudi government to provide information about Mohammed al-Qahtani. It is also the responsibility of the states to cut diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. States must not offer engagement to a country that uses repression as a political strategy.