(Beirut) – Kuwaiti authorities have arrested and extrajudicially deported a young dual Qatari-Saudi national. Nawaf al-Rasheed, 29, was deported to Saudi Arabia on May 12, 2018 during a visit to Kuwait and has been held incommunicado since. Saudi authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts and circumstances of al-Rasheed’s detention.
Using his Qatari passport, al-Rasheed, a poet and university student who lives in Qatar with his family, entered Kuwait lawfully on May 9 to attend a dinner in his honor organized by a prominent Kuwaiti poet, Abdelkarim al-Jabari. Kuwait authorities detained him on May 12, as he attempted to board a flight back to Doha. Kuwait’s Interior Ministry confirmed the deportation in tweets on May 15, saying it was at the Saudis’ request “under bilateral mutual security arrangements.”
“Kuwait touts its adherence to the rule of law, but al-Rasheed’s unlawful deportation shows that this commitment is paper-thin,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This deportation is even more egregious at a time when Muhammad bin Salman’s government in Saudi Arabia is on a rampage, locking up dissenters and women’s rights activists across the kingdom.”
Kuwaiti authorities provided no legal justifications for al-Rasheed’s arrest or deportation, and his family has been unable to contact him since. His Saudi passport expired in 2015.
Al-Rasheed is the son of the late Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz al-Rasheed of Saudi Arabia. The al-Rasheed family ruled the Emirate of Ha'il in the northern part of present-day Saudi Arabia until the turn of the 20th century and have a historic rivalry with the current ruling family – al Saud. But as friends of al-Rasheed and members of his family told Human Rights Watch, al-Rasheed was not an activist nor politically engaged.
“There is no reason for them to arrest him,” said one family member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “He is a poet, an academic, he is ambitious and is not political at all.” The family member said that al-Rasheed was set to graduate from Qatar University by mid-June.
On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, alleging that it supported terrorism and originally insisting on 13 “demands” to end the crisis, including closing broadcasting network Al Jazeera. The crisis, which has continued, has given rise to human rights abuses, including separating families and violations of the right to free expression. Simply showing sympathy towards Qatar or failing to express support for the blockade has led to arrests in some of the countries engaged in the dispute. Kuwait had refused to join the blockade and has instead sought to mediate the crisis.
On May 29, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement calling on Saudi Arabia “to immediately provide information concerning [al-Rasheed’s] whereabouts, and make clear whether or not he has been arrested, detained, or charged, and if so on what grounds.”
Al-Rasheed’s arrest comes at a time of increased repression in Saudi Arabia. Since the beginning of 2017, Saudi Arabia has increased arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of peaceful dissidents and human rights advocates. In its most recent crackdown, around the same time as al-Rasheed’s disappearance, the Saudi government arrested 17 women’s rights activists and supporters, including some of the most prominent campaigners for the right to drive.
Authorities have since released eight of those arrested. But others remain in detention, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, and Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh. According to Saudi activists, the detainees have had no access to lawyers and limited communication with family members since May 15.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch analysis of data from a public online Interior Ministry database, Saudi Arabia has arbitrarily detained thousands of people for more than six months without referring them to courts for criminal proceedings, and in many cases holding them incommunicado. Saudi authorities have not publicly acknowledged al-Rasheed’s deportation, which may amount to enforced disappearance, a crime prohibited under international human rights law.
Other Saudi activists and dissidents are serving long prison terms based solely on their peaceful activism, including Waleed Abu al-Khair, Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdullah al-Hamid, Fadhil al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Abdulkareem al-Khodr, Fowzan al-Harbi, Raif Badawi, Saleh al-Ashwan, Abdulrahman al-Hamid, Zuhair Kutbi, Alaa Brinji, and Nadhir al-Majed.
“The disgraceful pretense of calling Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman a ‘reformer’ grows more shameful every day that his government continues to arrest, detain, or disappear anyone it may perceive a threat to his rule,” Whitson said.