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Groups Call For IU Alum’s Release From Saudi Arabia Prison

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are calling for Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani's release one year after he was jailed for rebelling against the king.

Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani

Photo: Sultan Alfifi via Wikimedia Commons

Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani (left) has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Human rights groups are calling for Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani to be released from prison, one year after he was convicted of sedition and providing foreign media with false information.

Qahtani, who received a PhD from Indiana University in economics in 2002, and Mohammed al-Hamid were the founders of  the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, a human rights non-governmental organization.

Hamid was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Amnesty International sent out a press release this week urging for their release, and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Obama ahead of his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, calling on him to help stop repression of activists, among other human rights concerns.

“Saudi Arabia has no written penal code, the criminal regulations that exist are broadly and vaguely worded, and judges and prosecutors have criminalized a wide range of offenses under catch-all categories such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom,” the letter reads.

Human Rights Watch says it noted eight convictions of prominent human rights activists last year, including the imprisonment of Qahtani and Hamid.

Amnesty International calls the imprisonment a “flagrant disregard for human rights.”

“Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid are guilty of nothing more than daring to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The reality is that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is abysmal and anyone who risks highlighting flaws in the system is branded a criminal and tossed in a jail cell,” Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa said in a statement.

Earlier this week Qahtani and Hamid began a hunger strike to protest their prison conditions. Amnesty International reports prison officials have confiscated their books and personal belongings and moved them to prison cells that pose “serious dangers to their health.”

Qahtani is reported to now be in solitary confinement.

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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  • Robert

    I am proud of IU for writing about Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani’s work and reprehensible imprisonment. If we do not defend human rights defenders, we do not defend human rights. His courageous work as a an advocate for justice through peaceful reform in Saudi Arabia is something IU alumni should know about.

  • Ina Samaaleh

    I would like to commend Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and his colleagues for their courage and tenacity. By standing up to the tyranny of Ala-Saud and they have made huge sacrifices for the sake of their country and people. The Ala-Saud tried to buy them off, but no offer however big was good enough for Mohammed and his group. It is the example he and his group has set that can bring about the changes the country so desperately needs. The Ala-Saud view Mohammed and his organization as eminent danger to their tribal totalitarianism which has endured too long. What a gall to name the country for the family; what megalomania. Whereas other dictators erected grandiose statues and monuments for themselves, the Ala-Saud bested them all. The most that Lenin and Stalin could manage was naming cities for themselves. As for the Ala-Saud, they have created a country-sized monument for themselves by imposing their name on the country. Their name will sooner or later come down as the statues erected for Lenin, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein came down.

    Mohammad and his colleagues deserve our support. One symbolic way of supporting them is to stop referring to the country as Saudi Arabia. Let’s go back to calling it Arabia, which is the original name of that part of the world before the Ala-Saud brutally wrested control of the country in the early 1930′s.

  • Inquisitive1

    I knew Mohammad al-Qahtani here at IU, and know him to be an ethical and principled person. He is NOT calling for the overthrow of the King. It is shocking to read that the Saudi government has placed him in prison. He had a strong attachment to his homeland and culture. What a waste of human potential for an economics professor to be silenced as his country struggles to diversify their economy and to increase productivity to keep up with their rapid population growth. The Saudi government would be wise to rethink their imprisonment of so many professors and scholars who make statements for peaceful political reform. Trying to prohibit freedom of speech and freedom of thought is a fool’s errand today, especially with 40% of the population below age 20 and using Twitter and Facebook.

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