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Saudi Arabia: Allow immediate contact with human rights defender held incommunicado, UN expert urges

09 November 2022

GENEVA (9 November 2022) – The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders said today she is increasingly concerned for the health, and life, of imprisoned Saudi human rights defender Mohammad Al-Qahtani, who is reportedly being kept incommunicado after his family filed a complaint about attacks on him by inmates.

Al-Qahtani is a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, which was dissolved in 2013. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison that year for allegedly providing false information to outside sources, including UN human rights mechanisms.

“I am concerned at reports that his family has lost communication with Mohammad Al-Qahtani since 23 October 2022, after filing a complaint about attacks on him by other inmates,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said. “I am calling on the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia to inform his family of his whereabouts and current state of health, and to allow access by his family and lawyers.”

Al-Qahtani has repeatedly protested against ill treatment while serving his sentence in Al-Ha’ir Reformatory Prison in Riyadh, and since May 2022, he has complained about attacks by other prisoners. Prison authorities have refused his request to be transferred.

The expert said she is gravely concerned about the use of incommunicado detention as it represents a violation of detainees’ rights under international law. “Such methods give rise to grave concerns for the personal integrity of detainees, as they run a heightened risk of being subjected to ill-treatment and torture when all contact with the outside world has been blocked.”

The Special Rapporteur is in contact with the relevant authorities about the case.



Ms Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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