SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 09, 2013

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Institute of Diplomatic Affairs

Region & Country:Western Asia | Saudi Arabia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 9, 2013 Dr. Mohammad bin Fahad al-Qahtani, an economics professor at the Institute of Diplomatic Affairs, and Dr. Abu Bilal Abdullah al-Hamid, a former professor of contemporary literature at Imam Muhammad bin Sa’ud University, were sentenced to prison by the Riyadh Specialized Criminal Court.

Both Dr. al-Qahtani and Dr. al-Hamid are co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). ACPRA is a human rights organization that aims to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and to assist the families of political prisoners. The trial of the two academics began in June 2012 and garnered widespread criticism from international human rights groups alleging that the charges were politically motivated.

Drs. al-Qahtani and al-Hamid were sentenced to ten and five years in prison respectively on charges of seeking to undermine state policies and security and providing false information about Saudi Arabia to international organizations and media. They are also subject to travel bans of the same durations following their release from custody. ACPRA was ordered to be disbanded and its assets confiscated. On May 29, 2013 an attorney for Drs. al-Qahtani and al-Hamid filed appeals on their behalf.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of higher education professionals apparently for nonviolent, expressive activity which is protected by internationally recognized human rights standards.  State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On December 18, authorities reportedly ordered that Dr. al-Qahtani be placed in solitary confinement at Al-Ha’ir criminal prison. Authorities have not provided a reason behind this decision.