This statement was originally published on gc4hr.org on 11 September 2017.
In August, human rights defenders Issa Al-Nukhaifi and Essam Koshak were brought to court over their human rights activities, where they learned of charges against them. They remain at Al-Ha'ir Criminal Prison in Riyadh pending trial on 4 October 2017.
Al-Nukhaifi is a community social activist who protested against the government's policy of displacing families from the Saudi-Yemeni borders for security measures without adequate compensation. On 18 December 2016, the security forces in the Jizan region arrested Al-Nukhaifi and detained him at Mecca prison pending interrogation at the Investigation and Prosecution Authority in Jizan city.
On 6 December 2016, Al-Nukhaifi published the following tweet on his Twitter account, "I did not steal trillions, I did not buy a yacht and I did not buy a plane. I do not have a home for my children. I do not have a job after you took my job away and even my payment is late for the rented home so why the summons."
He was previously released on 6 April 2016 after having served three years and eight months in prison. He was allegedly tortured and placed in solitary confinement after he started a hunger strike to demand justice. He was accused of several charges including, challenging the judiciary, accusing the state institutions of dereliction of their duties, participating in sedition by inciting and organising demonstrations, and storing and sending information that might be prejudicial to public order.
Al-Nukhifi is currently in Al-Ha'ir Criminal Prison in Riyadh since being transferred from Mecca General Prison in August.
Koshak was summoned on 8 January 2017 by the Criminal Investigation Department in Mecca. On arrival he was arrested and detained in Al-Mansour police station and ordered to appear before the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution in Mecca the next day. He was interrogated over what he published on twitter, including his support for the hashtag to end the guardianship system for women, (#IAmMyOwnGuardian). No charges were brought against him at the time and he was not given proper access to his family or lawyer.
On 9 January 2017, his detention was extended and then he was transferred to Mecca general prison. He is now in Al-Ha'ir Criminal Prison in Riyadh.
The first session of the trial for both human rights defenders was held on Monday 21 August in the Fourth District of the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC), and due to the absence of Judge Abdulaziz Al Jaber, on his behalf, Judge Khaled Al-Jasser presided over the hearing.
Al-Nukhaifi had no lawyer present during the hearing. He was charged with "insulting" the authorities and inciting public opinion against the rulers, as well as being in contact with suspected opposition figures. He was also accused of demanding the release of members of banned NGOs - namely the Civil and Political Rights Association in Saudi Arabia (ACPRA). Charges were made under the Anti-Cyber Crimes Law and are related to his online activities on social media networks which include his rejection of the war in Yemen, and his support for the hashtag of the Popular Parliament.
Koshak was accused of inciting public opinion, and of supporting the hashtag to end the guardian system for women.
The next hearing for both men is scheduled for 4 October 2017.
Both men were reportedly subjected to humiliating searches while in detention, which is a systematic practice which all prisoners are subjected to in Saudi prisons in contravention of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners of Human Rights Defenders.
GCHR believes human rights defenders and Saudi Arabia are targeted solely due to exercising their legitimate and peaceful right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression and conducting their work in the field of human rights.
GCHR urges the Saudi Arabian authorities to:
- Overturn the charges against and release Essam Koshak and Issa Al-Nukhaifi immediately and without any conditions;
- End the practise of humiliating searches while in detention; and
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.