Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

Human Rights Activists Mohammad al-Qahtani (left) and Abdullah al-Hamid (right) before their sixth hearing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Twitter user @thumarm.

The Saudi government is arresting human rights activists across the country and putting them on trial.

In 2012, Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, the kingdom's two most prominent reformists and human rights activists were arrested and put on trial. In March 2013 they were charged and sentenced to 10 and 11 years behind bars for “breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor” and “trying to impede the country’s developments”. The historic trial was live-tweeted and attended by international journalists giving the world a glimpse of what the Saudi monarchy's justice system is like to the world.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world and has a devastating human rights record which includes arbitrarily detaining over 30,000 people [ar]. Since the Saudi state officially imposes Islamic Sharia law, judges are religious clerics and trials are usually religious debates of their interpretation of Islamic law.

2013 Saudi Human Rights Activists on Trial
While al-Qahtani and al-Hamid's trial was going-on, other activists were also arrested and are currently facing trial and sentencing in Saudi Arabia.

19 Aug – Saudi Judge to Jailed Activist: You Need a Lawyer? Aren't You a Man?
10 Aug – Saudi Arabia Continues to Fight Human Rights Organizations
6 Aug – Saudi Activist Released After Two Years in Prison
19 Jul- Saudi Women Banned From Attending Public Trials
24 Jun – Saudi Human Rights Activist Sentenced To 8 Years in Prison
4 Jun – Saudi Prisoners On and Off Hunger Strikes
4 May – Saudi Activist Refuses Trial: “I Will Not Tolerate Women Degradation”
2 May – Saudi Authorities Continue Crackdown on Human Rights Activists
25 Apr – Saudi Arabia Summons Human Rights Activist for Interrogation
24 Apr – Saudi Judge Bars Women from Trial of Human Rights Activist
20 Feb – Saudi Arabia: Activist Accuses Judge of Conflict of Interest

The Reformists
Mohammad al-Qahtani is an economics professor and was recently named in Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers 2012 list. Abdullah al-Hamid was first detained in 1993, and is probably the longest-standing reformist in the country. They are calling for a constitutional monarchy, protection for political dissent, and an end to human rights violations. Both are founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRAHR), the country's most active independent human rights advocacy group. Founded in 2009, the organisation has remained unlicensed since then, and continues to document human rights violations to file local lawsuits against the interior ministry and report the violations to the UN Human Rights Council. Several ACPRAHR founders are being prosecuted, and one of them has already been sentenced to prison after a secret trial.

Historic Trial
al-Qahtani and al-Hamid's trial started in June 2012, separately and secretly. After the first hearing the judge merged both cases. Dozens of activists attended the second hearing and live-tweeted the session, taking some photos as well,  showing the world what a Saudi trial looks like. The judge later decreed that violated courtroom order and decided to close upcoming sessions. Over the course of the next few hearings, both activists refused to be tried in secret and threatened to remain silent. By the fifth hearing, the judge finally capitulated, turning it effectively into a public trial. The later hearings were attended by dozens of people, including local and international journalists.

al-Qahtani and al-Hamid Trial 
9 Mar – Sentencing: Saudi Court Sentences Reformists to 10 and 11 Years in Prison
13 Jan – Sentencing: Saudi Activists’ Verdict Postponed

29 Dec – Final Hearing: Saudi Activist Trial Hearing Concludes 
15 Dec – 9th Hearing: Saudi Judge: Bashar al-Assad is the Outcome of Democracy
9 Dec – 8th Hearing: Saudi Activist: “Public Trial Reveals Their Mentality and Lack of Evidence”
1 Dec – 7th Hearing: Saudi Activist: “This is an inquisition, prosecuting us for our opinions”
24 Nov – 6th Hearing: Saudi Judge: “What applies to the ruler, does not apply to those he rules”
10 Nov – 5th Hearing: Saudi Judge: “The ruler has the right to do what he sees fit”
6 Oct – 4th Hearing: Saudi Arabia: Secret Trial Continues, So Does Activist Refusal
8 Sep – 3rd Hearing: Saudi Arabia: Reformist Figures Refuse Secret Trial
1 Sep – 2nd Hearing: Saudi Arabia: Trial Challenged by Prominent Human Rights Reformists



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Please contact Global Voices Middle East and North Africa Editor Amira Al Hussaini or Global Voices Saudi Arabia author Osama Khalid if you have links or story ideas, or want to add to this page's resource list.