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Saudi Arabia: Disappearance of Mohammed Al-Qahtani

21 expresses its deep concern regarding the disappearance of Mohammed Al-Qahtani. Since the expiry of his sentence on November 22, the whereabouts of human rights defender Mohammed al-Qahtani are still unknown.

On November 22, 2022, prominent Saudi human rights defender Mohammed al-Qahtani was due to be released from prison after the expiry of his 10-year prison sentence. However, the human rights defender has not yet been released. Since October 24, 2022, the Saudi Arabian authorities have denied Mohammed al-Qahtani contact with his family, and they refuse to disclose any information regarding his whereabouts.

Mohammed al-Qahtani is a prominent Saudi human rights defender, academic, and co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). Mohammed al-Qahtani was arrested in June 2012 during a wave of arrests of Saudi human rights defenders and activists. He was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence, followed by a travel ban of an equal length on charges including “breaking allegiance to the ruler” and “questioning the integrity of officials”. The ACPRA was also disbanded by court order.

On October 30, Dr. al-Qahtani’s wife called the prison to inquire about his whereabouts and was told by the prison guard that he had been transferred to another prison. The prison officer refused to disclose Dr. al-Qahtani’s location.

His family suspects that the authorities are not allowing him to contact them as a punishment for filing a complaint about the repeated assaults he faced in al-Ha’ir prison by prisoners suffering from mental health issues, whom the authorities have placed in the same wing as al-Qahtani and other prisoners of conscience. Similar situations have led to wholly avoidable deaths, including that of Musa al-Qarni, who was horrifically murdered by an inmate at Dhahban Prison in October 2021. In May 2022, Dr. al-Qahtani was beaten by another inmate in his wing, and in mid-2021 one of the prisoners on the wing attempted to start a fire.

In a worrying new trend, Saudi authorities have continued to detain some prisoners of conscience beyond the expiration of their sentences, or have retried and increased the sentences of some already serving prison terms.