(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately disclose the whereabouts and condition of the Jordanian activist Khaled al-Natour, and free him or charge him with a recognizable criminal offense.
Saudi security forces detained al-Natour at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh on January 6, 2013, and have held him incommunicado for two months. In a letter to Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Human Rights Watch called on Saudi authorities to release al-Natour without delay, or charge him before a court of law if authorities have evidence that he may be responsible for any crime.
“Khaled al-Natour’s family has been waiting in agony for two months with no information regarding his fate from Saudi or Jordanian authorities,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government should immediately disclose his condition and whereabouts, and grant him access to family members and lawyers.”
Al-Natour is a prominent activist affiliated with the Jordanian youth group known as Herak (movements), which has advocated political and economic reforms in Jordan since early 2011. A family member and local activist told Human Rights Watch that they believe the arrest stems from al-Natour’s participation in several anti-Saudi demonstrations in Jordan in late 2011.
One of al-Natour’s family members told Human Rights Watch that repeated attempts to gather information about al-Natour’s whereabouts and status through the Jordanian Foreign Ministry and Jordanian Embassy in Riyadh have been unsuccessful. The family member said that Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh confirmed al-Natour’s detention in a private meeting on February 1, but that ministry representatives have since then repeatedly told the family that Saudi authorities have not responded to official requests for information.
The family member also told Human Rights Watch that family members have asked the Foreign Ministry to designate a lawyer in Riyadh to petition Saudi authorities to disclose information about al-Natour’s case, but the Foreign Ministry refused, stating that it did not have the resources.
Jordan’s al-Ghad daily newspaper reported that a member of Jordan’s Chamber of Deputies from the northern governorate of Irbid attended the February 1 meeting with family members. He told the newspaper that Joudeh “reassured us regarding the health and location of Khaled and [said] that he is well. He informed us that there are serious efforts to gain his release, and he promised us that there will be an official response within days.”
Local activists told Human Rights Watch that it is unclear how the foreign minister would have known details of al-Natour’s detention in light of ministry claims that Saudi authorities have ignored its requests for information.
The Herak movement has engaged in street demonstrations at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry and Jordan’s national human rights commission over the past month to draw attention to al-Natour’s detention, and highlight what the demonstrators view as inaction on the part of Jordanian authorities.
Activists told Human Rights Watch that they fear al-Natour’s detention in Saudi Arabia may stem from his participation in several demonstrations in Jordan in late 2011 protesting the intervention of Saudi troops in Bahrain in March 2011. At one of these demonstrations, in front of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in the Jebel Amman neighborhood in September 2011, Jordanian police arrested al-Natour and another Herak member, and authorities later charged both with assaulting a security officer.
At another demonstration in front of the Bahraini embassy in Amman’s Shmeisani neighborhood on September 4, 2011, al-Natour responded to rumors that Jordanian troops were among those involved in the Bahrain crackdown, stating in an interview with Jordan Days TV, “We reject turning our people into hired guns so that [Gulf countries] will send billions of dollars [to Jordan]...”
A 2008 Human Rights Watch report found pervasive and systematic violations of defendants’ rights in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, including prolonged detention without charge, denial of access to legal counsel, and arrests carried out without judicial oversight or legal basis.
Article 14.3 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a signatory, states that “[a]nyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, in a language that he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him. He shall be entitled to contact his family members.” Article 14.4 and 14.6 guarantee the right of any detained person to be brought promptly before a judge and to petition a competent court to decide without delay on the lawfulness of the arrest.