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Wife of jailed Saudi activist fears for his life

#Wife #jailed #Saudi #activist #fears #life

The wife of a jailed Saudi activist says she is desperate to know her husband’s fate after losing touch with him for the first time during his nearly decade-long imprisonment. 

Maha al-Qahtani, who is based in the United States, spoke to AFP this week in her first interview since her husband, Mohammad al-Qahtani, was taken into Saudi custody in 2013. 

“I kept silent for 10 years but now I have run out of patience,” she said. 

“Is he OK? Is he alive? That is the question.” 

Mohammad al-Qahtani was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an NGO formed in 2009 that documented human rights abuses and pushed for elections in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy notorious for repression and human rights violations. 

In 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for crimes including sedition, but he had been slated for release later this month. 

After years of speaking with Mohammad by phone every day, Maha and their five children have not heard from him since October 23. 

He “used to call us once or twice a day for 10 years”, Maha said.

“He was pushing us to move on and enjoy our time. He did not abandon his responsibilities as a father and husband, even in prison.” 

She added: “The fact that communication was completely cut off indicates that something is being hidden.” 

Mohammad, in his late fifties, has been held in Al-Ha’ir prison, a maximum-security facility outside Riyadh. 

On October 10, he complained about a fellow inmate who was monitoring him “everywhere and all the time” and “inciting mentally ill patients” against him, Maha said. 

“I complained to a responsible officer in the prison, but the issue is developing,” Maha recalled him saying. 

“Anything that happens to me, they are responsible because they have knowledge of the matter,” he said, before the connection was cut.

Maha said she had tried to get information about her husband from Saudi authorities in recent weeks to no avail. 

– Repressive record – 

Saudi Arabia is often criticised for not tolerating dissent and has recently been in the spotlight for decades-long prison sentences handed down to two women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the government. 

Maha said she was especially worried about her husband because another founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, Abdullah al-Hamid, died in custody in Al-Ha’ir prison in 2020. 

Hamid’s relatives have accused prison authorities of denying him necessary health care. 

On Wednesday, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said she was “increasingly concerned” for Mohammad al-Qahtani.

Lawlor said Mohammad had complained about attacks by other prisoners since May but his request to be transferred had been refused.

London-based rights group ALQST denounced what it described as an “enforced disappearance”. 

Mohammad “has already faced years of cruel punishment for his brave activism, including repeated harassment and ill-treatment. Yet it seems the authorities are determined to punish him still further,” said Lina al-Hathloul, ALQST’s head of monitoring and communications. 

Mohammad had been due for release on November 22, though he would still face a 10-year travel ban. 

Maha said their youngest daughter will celebrate her 10th birthday on Saturday, and she is anxious to know if she will hear from her husband by then. 

“If he does not call her as usual, I will be sure that something serious has happened to him,” she said. 

“I just want to hear his voice.”

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#Wife #jailed #Saudi #activist #fears #life

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