15 December 2016 – On Thursday 1 December, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) increased the prison sentence of Saudi human rights defender Issa al-Hamid from nine to 11 years. Al-Hamid is a founding member the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA) and the younger brother of fellow human rights activists, Abdullah al-Hamid and Abdurrahman al-Hamid, both of whom are currently serving lengthy sentences for their work with ACPRA.
Issa al-Hamid is a former President of the ACPRA which he helped establish in 2009. Al-Hamid and his ACPRA colleagues worked to document human rights violations in the kingdom and simultaneously promoted a broad vision for civil and constitutional reform in Saudi Arabia. Two years before the establishment of ACPRA, authorities arrested al-Hamid and his brother Abdullah for participating in a protest led by a group of women against the unlawful detention of their relatives. After detaining al-Hamid and his brother for several days, authorities sentenced him to six months in prison for charges which included, “inciting women to protest.”
In 2013, Saudi officials began interrogating Issa al-Hamid in connection to his work with ACPRA. Authorities at the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Al-Qassim interrogated al-Hamid on seven separate occasions between 21 November 2013 and 14 January 2014. Throughout his investigation, officials denied al-Hamid access to a lawyer and subjected him to ill-treatment.
Al-Hamid’s trial began at the Buraydah Criminal Court in June 2014. However, after two hearings, the judge referred the case to the SCC, Saudi Arabia’s national security court. Al-Hamid stood trial at the SCC on charges of “participating in the establishment of an unlicensed organization” and “communicating with international organizations in order to harm the image of the state.” His trial concluded on 24 April 2016 after 16 hearings. SCC Judge Mohammed Al-Zahrani sentenced al-Hamid to nine years in prison followed by a travel ban of the same duration to begin following his release.
Al-Hamid appealed the decision and remained at liberty until the final verdict at which time the court of appeal requested his sentence be increased. On 1 December, the SCC increased al-Hamid’s sentence to 11 years. The court also issued a travel ban of equal duration and ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 Saudi riyals ($27,000 USD). The sentencing of al-Hamid roughly a month after Saudi Arabia was reelected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) illustrates the kingdoms unrelenting commitment to stifle all advocates of accountable governance, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms of opinion. U.S. officials should speak out against the sentencing of Issa al-Hamid and demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, including al-Hamid and his ACPRA colleagues.