Two prominent Saudi human rights activists receive 10 years in jail

Mohammed Fahd al-Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad were sentenced to at least 10 years in jail Saturday for sedition and providing foreign media with false information.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani is one of Saudi Arabia's most outspoken human rights activists.

On Saturday, Mohammed Fahd al-Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad, two political and human rights activists, were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison by a Saudi Arabian court.

The two were found guilty of sedition and providing foreign media with false information. Mr. Qahtani and Mr. Hamad are the founders of Acpra, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization that documents human rights abuses.

Acpra has called for a constitutional monarchy and elections, which could be viewed as threats to the power of the Saudi royal family. According to Reuters, last year Acpra issued a statement demanding that King Abdullah fire then Crown Prince Nayef. The group charged that Nayef failed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by the Interior Ministry, which he headed until he died last year. 

Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Hamad must complete six years of a previous jail term for political activities and serve an additional five years. Both will remain jailed until a judge rules on their appeal next month.

For more than ten years Qahtani, an economics professor, has been one of the most outspoken human rights activists in the deeply conservative country. Qahtani believes Saudis must demand their rights, and that speaking up and demanding a stronger rule of law is a moral responsibility.

In an interview with the Monitor in 2012, he compared Saudi Arabia to apartheid-era South Africa, saying, “Our goal is to reach a situation where the regime is bound by its own law. It's a duty incumbent on us to educate people and push them forward."

Qahtani and Hamad’s trial was open to the press and the public. While they disagreed with the decision, some Saudi activists called the trial's openness a step forward.

Supporters of the activists said the trial was political motivated. When the judge sentenced Qahtani and Hamad, supporters began shouting and security officers armed with truncheons cleared the courtroom.

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