SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)Rights groups claim that Saudi authorities are increasingly targeting human rights activists. Accusations include vague charges such as instigating chaos, gathering illegally, harming the reputation of the kingdom, talking to foreigners and the media.
Mohammed Al-Qahtani is one of those activists being targeted. He hopes that some day his daughter will be able to walk somewhere without a male guardian or drive a car without being arrested. He said: "Maybe I'm dreaming. My newborn daughter, maybe one day she will vote for the prime minister in Saudi Arabia.Of course, there will be a price to be paid, and we are more than willing to pay that price."
For the present, what Al-Qahtani wants is just a dream and he may soon pay the price for working towards his dream. Al-Qahtani is charged with nine offences, including breaking allegiance to the Saudi king, describing Saudi Arabia as a police state, and turning people and international groups against the kingdom. Abdullah Al-Hamid, another activist, is also faces charges, including spreading chaos, questioning the authority of official clerics, and undermining public order. Al-Qahtani thinks that the real crime for which they are being put on trial is that they together run a group that investigates and exposes human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qahtani claims: "We have a number of cases where people are thrown in prison arbitrarily, torture, forced disappearances. ... Whatever rights abuses (you could think of), you could find in Saudi Arabia," Amnesty International points out that back in 2011,Saudi Arabia banned public protests and arrested many peaceful rights advocates and protesters. The justice system is poorly defined and based on religion. Often draconian sentences are handed out. Shia minority citizens often face discrimination as do migrant workers. Many western countries remain silent on these issues because of the importance of Saudi Arabia as an oil producer and ally.
Philip Luther, of Amnesty International said: “The Saudi Arabian authorities’ trial of Mohammad al-Qahtani is just one of a troubling string of court cases aimed at silencing the Kingdom’s human rights activists.The case against him should be thrown out of court as it appears to be based solely on his legitimate work to defend human rights in Saudi Arabia and his sharp criticism of the authorities.”
Al-Qahtani told CNN: "I don't want my kids to face this Dark Age kind of prosecution. So we are trying to push the limit so our kids will live in a world where their fundamental rights will be respected." Al-Qahtani and others who founded the Saudi Political and Civil Rights Association (ACPRA) were unable to ever get a license to operate from the government even though they were founded in 2009. The group regularly reports on human rights violations and attempts to free political prisoners. ACPRA, according to Al-Qahtani, actively reports on human rights violations and attempts to help relatives of political prisoners free their loved ones through lawsuits against the government. ACPRA's website even called for a public sit-in to demand reforms. The sit-in was not allowed by the government and was eventually cancelled. The group also criticized the interior minister. Given Saudi laws one can see why the possible charges against the group members were piling up!
The group also tried without success to file complaints about political prisoners in the courts. The courts refuse to process them. ACPRA has even written to United Nations special rapporteurs who investigate human rights abuses worldwide. No doubt all of this is quite infuriating to Saudi authorities. While still free. both Al-Qahtani and Al-Hamid are repeatedly called in for questioning and are banned from foreign travel. Finally. the activists are receiving some coverage from the foreign press.
If past action is any guide the prospects for the activists is not good. In April last year, Mohammed Al-Bajadi was sentenced to four years in prison as he was: "guilty of participating in the establishment of a human rights organization, harming the image of the state through the media, calling on the families of political detainees to protest and hold sit-ins, contesting the independence of the judiciary and having banned books in his possession." Al-Qahtani himself realizes ACRPA's work is just a start: "There's no guarantee that [ACRPA's work] will get people the rights for freedom of expression." The cause will continue if the two activists are locked up. The belief that there can be freedom in Saudi Arabia has now been shared with many. Others will share the effort now that he and Al-Hamid have done their share.
Source : All voice