Saudi Arabia: Three more human rights defenders sentenced to up to six years in prison by Specialized Criminal Court

Three more human rights defenders have been sentenced in prison in Saudi Arabia, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). They have all been tried by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), which was set up to deal with terrorism cases.

On 28 February 2018, Issa Al-Nukhaifi was sentenced by the SCC to six years in prison followed by another six years of travel ban upon his release. On 27 February 2018, Essam Koshak was sentenced by the SCC to four years in prison followed by another four years of travel ban upon his release.

GCHR has received reports indicating they will both appeal the sentences, and they have one month to do so. They are being held in Al-Malaz prison in Riyadh.

Al-Nukhaifi (pictured above in the middle) is a community social activist who protested against the government’s policy of displacing families from the Saudi-Yemeni borders for security measures without adequate compensation. On 18 December 2016, the security forces in the Jizan region arrested Al-Nukhaifi after he tweeted on 06 December 2016: “I did not steal trillions, I did not buy a yacht and I did not buy a plane. I do not have a home for my children. I do not have a job after you took my job away and even my payment is late for the rented home so why the summons.” The tweet referenced the fact that he served three years and eight months in prison, before being released on 06 April 2016.

Al-Nukhaifi was charged with “insulting” the authorities and inciting public opinion against the rulers, as well as being in contact with suspected opposition figures. He was also accused of demanding the release of members of banned NGOs – namely the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). Charges were made under the Anti-Cyber Crimes Law and are related to his online activities on social media networks which include his rejection of the war in Yemen, and his support for the hashtag of the Popular Parliament.

Koshak (pictured above right) was summoned on 08 January 2017 by the Criminal Investigation Department in Mecca, and subsequently interrogated over twitter postings, including his support for the hashtag to end the guardianship system for women, (#IAmMyOwnGuardian). He was later accused of inciting public opinion, and of supporting the hashtag to end the guardian system for women.

For more background on their cases, see:

Human rights defender Fahad Al-Fahad was also sentenced on 11 January 2017 by the SCC to five years in prison, without the presence of a lawyer. He was given three years based on the Royal Order A/44 (terrorism law) and the other two years based on the Cyber Crimes Law. He is also under a travel ban for ten years following his release. The verdict also included a ban on writing or engaging in any media outlet for an indefinite time in addition to closing down his twitter account. The judge reportedly stated that this ban is for life, but the length of time was not in the written verdict. After less than three months the Specialised Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the full preliminary sentence issued against him. He is being held in Dhahban prison outside of Jeddah.

Al-Fahad (pictured above left) was arrested on 07 April 2016 after he wrote many human rights articles online, including about women’s rights, some for the “Huna Sotak” website. The charges against him were:

  1. Preparing, storing and sending information that would harm the public order by creating an account through Twitter, and exploiting it to spread anti-state and anti-judicial institutions, and describing it as based on injustice and corruption;
  2. Incitement to antagonise the state, its system and its judicial organs, and to incite against the guardian (King) and call for sit-ins and demonstrations that are prohibited by Royal Order No. 16820;
  3. 3. Support for Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA), banned by court order, and the publication of its statements and the presence in its gatherings.

GCHR believes human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are targeted solely due to exercising their legitimate and peaceful right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression and conducting their work in the field of human rights.

GCHR urges the Saudi Arabian authorities to:

  1. Overturn the charges against and release Essam Koshak, Issa Al-Nukhaifi and Fahad Al-Fahad immediately and without any conditions;
  2. End the practise of trying human rights defenders in the Specialised Criminal Court; and
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.