Publication date: 31/05/2022

ALQST is extremely concerned by developments that threaten the safety and welfare of prisoners of conscience in Saudi prisons, following the recent assault on prominent rights activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani by a man with mental health issues in Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. Reports suggest that the prison administration is deliberately placing prisoners of conscience, such as Mohammed al-Qahtani, Essa al-Nukhaifi, Fawzan al-Harbi and Mohammed al-Hudaif, on a wing for prisoners with mental disorders. Despite requests from the prisoners of conscience to be moved to another wing, the Al-Ha’ir administration continues to drag its feet over the matter, making it likely that there will be further assaults, or similar problems, in the days ahead.

On Thursday, 26 May 2022, al-Qahtani was beaten up by a man from the wing with mental health issues, before the other prisoners intervened to stop the attack and protect al-Qahtani. This was not the first attack of its kind. One of the mentally ill prisoners had previously attempted to start a fire on the wing during the time al-Qahtani was being held there, before some of the other detainees rushed to the scene and brought the fire under control. The prison administration also, last year, placed al-Qahtani alongside prisoners infected with coronavirus without telling him. Other examples of its wilful neglect include failing to provide al-Qahtani with treatment for a skin complaint, and denying him treatment even when it got much worse. The prison administration has promised more than once to look into the matter, but still nothing has happened. Al-Qahtani has also been taken to the prison hospital a number of times for tests, and each time sent back without being seen because he did not have an appointment.

These incidents are particularly worrying because they appear to be orchestrated by the Saudi authorities, judging by the horrendous and fatal attack on Musa al-Qarni in Dhahban Prison, Jeddah, last October; the deliberate medical neglect of Abdullah al-Hamid in Al-Ha’ir Prison that led to his death in April 2020; the COVID-19-related death in May 2021 of Zaheer Shareeda; and the assault on Khaled al-Omair in July last year.

ALQST is therefore extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose prison term is due to end in November this year. We therefore call on the Saudi authorities to fully meet their obligation to ensure the safety and welfare of al-Qahtani and other prisoners of conscience, and to provide appropriate hospital placements for prisoners who are mentally unstable.

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