Saudi Activists Appeal Lengthy Jail Sentences

A lawyer for two prominent Saudi human rights activists has filed an appeal of a Riyadh’s court decision to sentence Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed to jail and travel bans for founding a civil society organization.

“I have just left the court after filing two appeals memos for brothers al-Hamed and al-Qahtani,” lawyer Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh said Tuesday morning on Twitter. “May God make it beneficial to achieve the desired justice.”

The Criminal Court in Riyadh in March sentenced al-Qahtani and al-Hamed to 10 and 11 years in jail, respectively, for their role as co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA). In relation to that, the two activists faced charges such as disobeying the ruler, founding an unlicensed organization, inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations, and damaging the image of the state by disseminating false information to foreign organization.

The two men’s main defense lawyer Abd al-Aziz al-Hussan said earlier this month that he has been hounded out of the country for defending the two activists. Al-Hussan was interrogated after he tweeted that prison officials refused to remove the handcuffs off his clients when visited them in jail.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the appeal as “a bid for justice amid a broader crackdown on activism” in Saudi Arabia.

“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. The sentences must be overturned immediately”, said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director at Amnesty International in statement released on Tuesday.

Abdulkareem al-Khoder, another co-founder of ACPRA, was sentenced in April to four months in prison after he had refused to attend his court session in protest against the judge blocking 10 women from entering the courtroom, while Fawzan al-Harbi, also co-founder of ACPRA, has been under investigation since 11 May 2013, facing similar charges to his colleagues.

Amnesty urged Saudi Arabia to stop its crackdown against activists. “The ongoing persecution of human rights activists shows alarming contempt by the government towards independent organizations,” Harrison said. “The Saudi Arabian authorities must stop the harassment of activists.”