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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Human rights groups slam Qatar for deporting Saudi activist

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Mohammed Al Otaibi. Credit: Amnesty International

A Saudi Arabian man who fled to Qatar to avoid jail has been deported from Doha, officials have confirmed.

The move has been condemned by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) as a “shameful and inhuman act.”

They say returning Mohammad Al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia puts him at risk for ill treatment or torture.

The 49-year-old faces charges related to starting a human rights organization in 2013 without the necessary licenses, according to HRW.

He has also been accused of using the internet to hurt the reputation of Saudi Arabia and of publishing false reports on social media that cause “international human rights organizations (to become) hostile to the kingdom.”

After arriving in Qatar, Al-Otaibi secured United Nations refugee status in Norway. But he was arrested at Hamad International Airport last week when trying to fly to Oslo with his wife, Amnesty said.

International law

Qatar’s foreign ministry announced Al-Otaibi’s departure on Monday. It said officials handed him over to Saudi Arabia on May 24. His wife was not deported.

The move was “based on legal procedures and regional and international conventions related to extradition and criminals,” it added.

Authorities apprehended Al-Otaibi at HIA when he tried to fly to Oslo last week. Credit: Sanjiban Ghosh/Flickr

However, rights groups said international law prohibits countries from returning a person to a place where they face a real risk of persecution.

In a statement, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East Director of Research, said:

“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.

(Al-Otaibi) is not a criminal but simply a peaceful activist defending human rights who should not be on trial in the first place.”

Norway has also called Al-Otaibi’s deportation “regrettable,” according to AFP. Its foreign ministry said officials will continue to monitor the situation.

‘Chilling message’

Qatar is currently embroiled in a media war with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other nations following last week’s hack attack on QNA.

Though authorities deported Al-Otaibi prior to the start of that conflict, not extraditing him would likely have exacerbated the problem.

However, activists assert that returning the man to his home country still sends the wrong message to others in trouble.

“The apparent violation of the fundamental right of refugees not to be forcibly returned sends a chilling message around the Gulf that human rights activists cannot feel safe,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

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