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SAUDI ARABIA: ARBITRARY DETENTION OF A MOTHER AND A SON FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITIES OF A FAMILY MEMBER

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention urges the Government of Saudi Arabia to take all the necessary actions to implement the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 17/2023 concerning Aïda al-Ghamdi and Adel al-Ghamdi starting for the Government of Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. and Mr. al-Ghamdi and to accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.


Read the full WGAD Opinion concerning Aïda al-Ghamdi and Adel al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia) : Opinion No. 17/2023


MOTHER AND SON SUBJECTED TO ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE


Aïda al-Ghamdi, a Saudi citizen born in 1958, has lived in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, where she is known as a steadfast member of her community and a relative of a political and human rights activist who left Saudi Arabia in 2000 and was granted political asylum abroad in 2012. Her youngest son, Adel al-Ghamdi, born in 1997, also resides in Dammam. 


Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi were arrested in the street in Jeddah by agents of the State Security (the Mabahith) who were wearing plain clothes, without an arrest warrant and without being informed of the reasons for their arrest or of their rights. Following their arrest, both were taken to an unknown location and subjected to what amounted to enforced disappearance for at least three months, from 26 March to 26 June 2018. The authorities intentionally removed them from the protection of the law by subjecting them to enforced disappearance and by denying them access to the outside world before moving them to Dhahban prison in Jeddah, without any judicial representation. It took over 13 months in Jeddah's custody before their first judicial hearing in early July 2019, totaling over 15 months of detention without judicial oversight in violation of articles 3, 6, and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Consequently, the Working Group found that the government of Saudi Arabia failed to establish a legal basis for Ms. and  Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s arrest and detention, rendering their detention arbitrary under category I.


ARRESTED FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVITY OF A FAMILY MEMBER


Ms. Al-Ghamdi’s relative living abroad was known as a dissident critical of the regime of Saudi Arabia and quickly became a target of the Government’s crackdown on dissent. After being threatened with arrest and even death, he decided to flee the country and seek asylum abroad. His departure did not prevent him from campaigning to denounce violations and he continued to advocate, from abroad, for reform in Saudi Arabia. 


The arrest of Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi, and their subsequent ill-treatment, was intended not only as reprisal against the relative living abroad for peacefully expressing dissenting views, but was also to blackmail and silence him. According to the Working Group, the cause of Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s arbitrary deprivation of liberty does not stem from their own exercise of the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but rather from the exercise of those rights by their family member living abroad.


Therefore, The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention founded that Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s deprivation of liberty is all the more arbitrary because it results from the exercise by a family member living outside of the country of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by Articles 7, 14, 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and their detention must therefore be considered arbitrary under category II. 


DETAINED FOR OVER A YEAR WITH A TOTAL DISREGARD OF THE RIGHT TO A  FAIR TRIAL 


The Working Group criticized the total disregard for international fair trial standards of Saudi Arabia in this case and found the violations of international norms guaranteeing a right to a fair trial of such gravity as to render Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s deprivation of liberty arbitrary.


Indeed, both individuals were detained for over a year without being presented before a competent judicial authority and without being charged or informed of the charges against them. Consequently, they were unable to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, which constitutes a violation of articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is contrary to principles 32 and 39 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Moreover, at the time of the submission of their communication, both Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi were unaware of the legal charges of which they were convicted and for which they were sentenced to heavy prison terms; their family ties with an activist living abroad could in no way constitute a crime or punishable offence.


Consequently, in light of these facts, the Working Group submits that the non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, gives Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s detention an arbitrary character under category III.


A RECOGNIZED PATTERN OF DISCRIMINATORY ARBITRARY ARRESTS IN SAUDI ARABIA


The Working Group concluded that Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi’s deprivation of liberty is based on the political and human rights activity of their family member who is living abroad and is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of birth and family ties. This appears to be a case of guilt by association. The Working Group reaffirms that no one should be deprived of their liberty for the crimes, real or not, committed by a family member by birth or marriage, in a free, democratic society.


The Working Group thus finds that Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi were deprived of their liberty in a discriminatory manner, contrary to articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and considers their detention arbitrary under category V.


Finally, The Working Group, recalls that several United Nations human rights mechanisms have consistently raised concerns about systematic violations of procedural rights, in particular of individuals, such as Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi, who are arrested under the Counter-terrorism and Financing of Terrorism Act in recognized pattern of arbitrary arrests and detention of political opponents. 


CONCLUSIONS OF THE UN WORKING GROUP AGAINST ARBITRARY DETENTION


In the light of the foregoing, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rendered that, the deprivation of liberty of Aïda al-Ghamdi and Adel al-Ghamdi is arbitrary and falls within categories I, III and V, being in contravention of articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


The Working Group requests the Government of Saudi Arabia to take the steps, necessary to remedy the situation of Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that a necessary remedy would be to release Ms. Al-Ghamdi and Mr. Al-Ghamdi immediately and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law. Furthermore, the Working Group requests the Government to revise its laws, particularly the Counter-terrorism and Financing of Terrorism Act, to meet the requirement of due process and fair trial, in conformity with the findings in the present opinion and with its obligations under international law.





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