Human Rights Watch said that Qatari authorities should not deport prominent Saudi human rights activist Mohammed al-Oteibi, who would be at risk of a long prison sentence and possible ill-treatment if forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia, given that he fled to neighboring Qatar in March 2017, and he is on trial in Saudi Arabia based on charges related solely to his peaceful human rights work.
In a report it released on Tuesday (April 25, 2017), the international watchdog underlined that Al-Oteibi and Abullah al-Attawi, another Saudi activist, face a series of vague charges relating to a short-lived human rights organization they set up in 2013. Human Rights Watch has also documented allegations that Saudi officials at detention facilities sometimes subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment, including at detention facilities run by Saudi Arabia’s Public Security Department (police) and by the General Directorate of Investigation (al-Mabahith).
“No one should be sent back to face an unfair trial and possible ill-treatment based on peaceful human rights work,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East executive director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatari authorities should protect Mohammed al-Oteibi and decline possible Saudi requests to return him,” she stressed.
According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar’s return of al-Oteibi might amount to refoulement, which violates the prohibition in customary international law on returning a person to a real risk of persecution – where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion or where there is real risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment or other serious violations of their human rights.
“Saudi Arabia regularly charges its domestic critics with harming the reputation of the country, but prosecutions like this do far more damage to the country’s reputation and often prove that its critics’ complaints are spot on,” Whitson said.