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.