Prominent Saudi Activists Sentenced to Jail

A court in Riyadh has sentenced two prominent Saudi activists to jail time and travel ban for founding an unlicensed human rights organization. After the sentences were announced, presiding judge Hammad al-Omar has ordered the arrest of Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed. The judge has also ordered the the dissolving of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association and the confiscation of its property, including the closure of its websites and social media accounts.

The activist al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in jail and a travel ban for 10 years. His fellow ACPRA co-founder al-Hamed was sentenced to 5 years in jail and added 6 years from a previous sentenced that the King pardoned in 2006. That means al-Hamed would spend 11 years in jail in addition to a 5-year travel ban. The verdict session that took place in the Criminal Court in Riyadh was well attended by activists and the media, but the attendees were not allowed to bring their smartphones inside the courtroom.

Al-Qahtani and al-Hamed have been on trial since June 2012. The government is accusing them with a series of offenses, including founding an unlicensed human rights organization, seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder, undermining national unity, breaking allegiance to the ruler, disobeying the ruler, and questioning the integrity of officials. The jail sentences were expected by both activists. Al-Qahtani has previously said that expects to be sent to prison, and al-Hamed has told the judge during the trial that he is ready for jail.

Many activists say this trial was a landmark because al-Qahtani and al-Hamed have insisted on their right to an open and public trial. Over more than six months of hearings, other Saudi activists, intellectuals and academics have crowded the courtroom in an unprecedented show of support. They have also taken to social media talk about the case and criticize the government. Reacting to the verdict on Twitter, some Saudis who have followed the case have expressed shock and outrage. “Mockery… Mockery,” said businessman and columnist Essam al-Zamel. Lawyer Badr al-Jaafari wrote it is “another day of tampering with the value of justice in the name of Sharia and under the cloak of religion.”

Maha al-Qahtani, wife of the activist, said she does not find it strange that her husband would be thrown in jail for demanding reform as many others have been unfairly imprisoned before. “What is strange,” she said, “is that people still long to justice and hope for reform.”