Abdullah al-Hamid, Waleed Abu al-Khair & Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani (2018 Laureates)

Country: Saudi Arabia

Current status: Arbitrary detention, Travel ban, Torture and ill-treatment, Medical negligence

Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani are imprisoned, prominent Saudi civil and human rights defenders, who have long fought for democratic reforms in a country where peaceful criticism of the ruler is officially considered a “terrorist activity.” Al-Qahtani, together with the late Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, has created the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), which is currently banned in the country. Abu al-Khair is also part of the organisation. Dr al-Hamid passed away in prison on April 24, 2020, after his health had been severely neglected by authorities. All three human rights defenders have been subjected to lengthy, arbitrary sentences as a reprisal for their human rights activism and have suffered ill-treatment in prison.

  • 1993 – 2008: Abdullah al-Hamid faced persecution and imprisonment several times for his calls to establish a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia. During this period, he was arrested six times.
  • 2008: Human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair founded the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) but failed to register it in the country. It was eventually registered in Canada in 2012.
  • 2009: Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani created the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to promote human rights and political reform in Saudi Arabia. ACPRA was one of the few independent civil society organisations in the country.
  • June 11 – 18, 2012: Al-Hamid and al-Qahtani were arrested and charged in relation to their human rights activism.
  • March 9, 2013: The authorities ordered the closure of ACPRA. Al-Qahtani and al-Hamid were sentenced to 11 years and 5 years in prison respectively. A previous sentence of six years for which al-Hamid had been pardoned by the King was also confirmed in his case. Upon the end of their sentence, a travel ban equal to the period of their imprisonment will be put in place. The charges against them included “breaking allegiance to and disobeying the ruler,” “undermining unity,” and “questioning the integrity of officials.”
  • April 15, 2014: Abu al-Khair was arrested and sent to al-Ha’ir prison while awaiting prosecution. He was the first activist to be tried under the 2014 “Terrorism-Law.”
  • July 6, 2014: Abu al-Khair was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment, a 15-year travel ban and a fine of 200,000 riyals. He has since often been denied food and adequate medical treatment and has endured beatings, solitary confinement and sleep deprivation.
  • September 2015: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted opinion no.38/2015 concerning al-Qahtani, Abu al-Khair, al-Hamid and others. It considered that their detention constituted a reprisal for their human rights work and demanded that Saudi Arabia provide a remedy to their situation.
  • June 7, 2016: Abu al-Khair started a 5-day hunger strike in protest against his conditions and his degrading treatment in prison.
  • April 2018: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted opinion no. 10/2018 concerning Abu al-Khair. It considered that his detention was arbitrary, constituted illegal discrimination under international law and requested Saudi Arabia to take all steps necessary to remedy the situation.
  • December 11, 2019 – February 6, 2020: Abu al-Khair went on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment and solitary confinement.
  • April 9, 2020: Al-Hamid suffered a stroke in prison and entered into a coma, after seeing his heart catheterisation delayed for months.
  • April 24, 2020:  Al-Hamid passed away in prison due to a lack of prompt and adequate medical care by prison authorities.
  • June 2, 2020: UN experts sent a letter to Saudi Arabia addressing the death of Al-Hamid and requesting the Saudi authorities to explain why his life-saving heart surgery was delayed and whether the country duly investigated the circumstances of his passing.
  • December 20 – 30, 2020: Al-Qahtani went on hunger strike to denounce prison conditions. Some of his demands were met ten days later.
  • April 9, 2021: Al-Qahtani contracted Covid-19 in prison and was prevented to communicate with his family for days. Other prisoners remain at risk of being infected.

Protection and Advocacy

  • April 2021: A year after Abdullah al-Hamid’s passing in prison, jointly with other NGOs, the Right Livelihood Foundation called for accountability and for the release of all Saudi human rights defenders, including Abu al-Khair and al-Qahtani.
  • March 2021: The Right Livelihood Foundation sent a submission to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders on the cases of Abu al-Khair and al-Qahtani to inform her thematic report on the issue of long-term detention of human rights defenders.
  • September 2020: The Right Livelihood Foundation and three other NGOs delivered a statement at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council condemning the arbitrary detention of al-Qahtani and Abu al-Khair and urged Saudi authorities to account for the death of al-Hamid.
  • April 2020: Following al-Hamid’s stroke, jointly with ALQST and MENA Rights Group, the Right Livelihood Foundation sent an urgent appeal to the Special Procedures urging them to call on the Saudi authorities to uphold his right to adequate health care.
  • October 2019: On the 10th anniversary of the establishment of ACPRA, the Right Livelihood Foundation joined other human rights organisations calling on Saudi authorities to release all detained members of ACPRA.
  • September 2019: During the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council, the Foundation delivered an oral statement and co-sponsored a side event on arbitrary detention, focusing on their cases.
  • June 2019: The Right Livelihood Foundation signed a joint letter requesting the establishment of an independent mechanism to monitor human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
  • March 2019: The Right Livelihood Foundation organised a side-event at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council on accountability in Saudi Arabia, bringing attention to their situations. We also delivered an oral statement on the occasion of the adoption of Saudi Arabia’s Universal Periodic Review.
  • October 2018: The Right Livelihood Foundation joined Amnesty International to appeal to Saudi Arabia to release al-Hamid, al-Qahtani and Abu al-Khair. It also joined over 170 civil society organisations in calling on the international community, including the United Nations to take immediate steps to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for grave human rights violations.