Qatar: Activist at risk of torture after deportation to Saudi Arabia

The government of Saudi Arabia must immediately release the imprisoned Saudi Arabian human rights activist Mohammad al-Otaibi, who is at serious risk of torture, said Amnesty International.

On the night of 24 May, the persecuted activist was en route to Norway, where he had been granted refugee status, when Qatari authorities arrested him in Doha airport and deported him back to Saudi Arabia.

“Forcibly returning Mohammad al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia under the guise of judicial cooperation, where he risks torture and an unfair trial, is a shameful and inhuman act on the part of the Qatari authorities and a blatant violation of international law. Mohammad al-Otaibi is not a criminal but simply a peaceful activist defending human rights who should not be on trial in the first place,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research at Amnesty International in the Middle East.

“He is a prisoner of conscience. The Saudi Arabian authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally and put an end to their relentless crackdown on human rights defenders.”

Amnesty International had previously called on Qatari authorities not to buckle to Saudi Arabian demands to forcibly return Mohammad al-Otaibi.

Mohammad al-Otaibi arrived in Qatar in February 2017, after the Saudi Arabian authorities lifted a travel ban against him for a previous conviction stemming from his human rights work. While in Doha, he was granted asylum in Norway.

On the night of 24 May, Mohammad al-Otaibi and his wife made their way to Doha airport to fly to Oslo, but were surprised when he was arrested there instead.

Following his detention, Qatari officials told his wife that they would allow Mohammad to call her. When Mohammad’s brother went to State Security in Doha the following day, he was told that Mohammad was being held there, and that he should come back in three days.

On the morning of 28 May, Mohammad’s wife called State Security who informed her that Mohammad had been deported to Saudi Arabia. After checking his record of travel via his national ID on an online portal, she found out that he had left Qatar to Saudi Arabia via the Salwa border on 25 May at 03:03am, just hours after his detention at the airport.

“Now that Mohammad al-Otaibi’s fate has been all but sealed, the Norwegian government must do everything within their power to pressure the Saudi Arabian authorities to release him and allow him to travel to Norway as planned. Saudi Arabia has an appalling record of holding flagrantly unfair trials, torturing and forcing “confessions” out of people. Mohammad al-Otaibi is in serious danger,” said Lynn Maalouf.


Under international law, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from transferring individuals to a place where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. Qatar has also ratified the UN Convention against Torture which prohibits states from extraditing, expelling or returning any person to a country where they face a substantial risk of being tortured.

Mohammad al-Otaibi’s current trial started on 30 October 2016 and he faces a long list of charges that include posting tweets deemed “offensive to the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], the ruler and Arab countries”, setting up an independent organization without authorization, giving interviews to the media and “inciting international organizations against the Kingdom”.