In light of the President’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia, CCS requests his assistance in the release of two prisoners: Mohammed al-Qahtani and Raif Badawi.
Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Professor of Economics was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison for speaking out for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He co-founded the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, calling for Saudi Arabia to implement the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that was not a signatory of this document.
A second prisoner, a blogger — Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam through electronic channels (his blog)”. This sentence was imposed for exercising his right to free expression.
Both prisoners must be unconditionally released. Pending release, they require access to their attorneys, families and appropriate medical care.
President Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
On the occasion of your return from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Committee of Concerned Scientists, an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world, wishes to call to your attention two important cases that we would like to have you raise with Saudi Arabian authorities.
First, we urge you to address the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Professor of Economics sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison for speaking out and organizing for human rights in Saudi Arabia. Dr. al-Qahtani, who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Indiana, co-founded the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization that calls for implementing the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
His subsequent conviction on charges of “sedition” appears to have been based purely on this peaceful exercise of his right to free expression and free association. Scholars like Dr. al-Qahtani have a fundamental right to participate in peaceful political activities, and this jailing for basic human rights advocacy is a serious breach of international human rights standards that should not be allowed to stand.
Mr. President, we urge you to demand that Saudi Arabia respect globally accepted human rights norms in this case and request the release of Mohammed al-Qahtani immediately and unconditionally.
Second, we urge you to also address the case of blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. This sentence and the underlying conviction were imposed on Mr. Badawi for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. They are illegitimate and must be overturned. Mr. Badawi should be immediately and unconditionally released. Pending his release, it is imperative that he be allowed regular contacts with his attorney and family, and that he is given adequate healthcare.
The flogging portion of Raif Badawi’s sentence was reportedly to be carried out in increments of 50 lashes per week for a period of 20 weeks. But the first round of lashings, on January 9, 2015, resulted in injuries that did not heal in time for the second round a week later, and subsequent flogging sessions have not yet occurred.
Subjecting Raif Badawi to 50 lashes per week for a period of 20 weeks is a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment that violates international law and is tantamount to torture. As a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture, Saudi Arabia is obligated to prevent such torturous punishments. Furthermore, Raif Badawi was convicted solely for exercising his right to free expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mr. President, we urge you to demand that Saudi Arabia honor its human rights commitments, and request the release of Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally.
Thank you for your attention to these extremely important cases of egregious human rights violations. The government of Saudi Arabia must be held responsible for these abuses, and called on to provide a swift and permanent remedy that respects the rights of Mohammed al-Qahtani and Raif Badawi.
Sincerely,Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich,
Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists