Moroccan authorities detained Hassan Al Rabea at the Marrakesh Airport on January 14, 2023, as he was attempting to travel to Turkey. Saudi prosecutors are seeking to try Al Rabea for working with “terrorists” to help him leave Saudi Arabia “irregularly,” based on an arrest warrant that Human Rights Watch has reviewed.
“Given the rampant torture and due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, Morocco should not forcibly return Hassan Al Rabea there and risk complicity in Saudi abuses,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The authorities have previously targeted other members of Al Rabea’s family, including two cousins who were executed in 2019 for alleged protest-related and terrorism offenses and a brother facing a death sentence for alleged terrorism. Al Rabea belongs to the Shia minority, which faces systemic discrimination by the Saudi state.
A family member told Human Rights Watch that while Al Rabea was at Marrakesh airport, he messaged a friend, “I don’t know what is going on, but there is something wrong.” Friends and family were unable to reach Al Rabea after he sent this message.
Human Rights Watch obtained an arrest warrant issued by Saudi’s public prosecution and stamped by the Department of International Cooperation. It shows that the Public Prosecution ordered Al Rabea’s arrest on October 19, 2022, on charges of “collaboration with terrorists by having them agree and collaborate with him to get him outside of Saudi Arabia in an irregular fashion,” a crime that can carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years. A provisional arrest warrant was issued on November 22, 2022, upon the request of Saudi authorities.
Al Rabea appeared in Morocco’s Court of First Instance on January 14, after which he was sent to Tiflet 2 prison to await a decision by the Rabat Court of Cassation on his extradition, according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch.
Al Rabea’s relative told Human Rights Watch that he left Saudi Arabia in late 2021 to escape continued harassment by Saudi authorities. Al Rabea initially traveled to Ukraine, and then to Indonesia at the onset of the Russian invasion, before eventually arriving in Morocco in the summer of 2022, the family member said.
Al Rabea’s arrest and detention in Morocco is the latest targeting of members of the Al Rabea family by the Saudi government. The authorities in recent years have increasingly retaliated against the family members of critics and dissidents abroad in an effort to coerce them to return to the country.
On February 7, 2021, Saudi State Security raided the family home in ‘Awwamiyya and arrested Hassan Al Rabea, along with two of his brothers, Ali and Hussein. While Hassan and Hussein were released after one day in detention, Ali was held incommunicado for eight months in Dammam prison.
Saudi authorities charged Ali Al Rabea with a slew of crimes related to terrorism, including facilitating the movements of “terrorists,” according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch. On November 5, 2022, a court sentenced Ali Al Rabea to death. A family member contested Ali’s guilt, saying that he was not politically active.
Two of Al Rabea’s cousins, Hussein Al Rabea and Ahmed Al Rabea, were executed on April 23, 2019, in a mass execution of 37 men, 33 of them Shia, who had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses, espionage, and terrorism.
Many Saudi Shia are serving lengthy sentences, are on death row, or have been executed for protest-related charges following patently unfair trials. Human Rights Watch has also documented the use of “confessions” allegedly obtained by torture and ill-treatment, including beatings and prolonged solitary confinement, to convict men and children accused of protest-related crimes following demonstrations by members of the Shia minority in 2011 and 2012 in Eastern Province towns during which some security personnel and citizens were injured.
On March 13, 2021, Morocco deported Osama al-Hasani, a Saudi-Australian national, to Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities said he was wanted in connection with a 2015 car theft case, though he had been cleared in 2018 of wrongdoing in the case.
Extraditing Al Rabea may violate Morocco’s international obligations, including article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which states that “no State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
“If returned to Saudi Arabia, Hassan Al Rabea could risk a grim fate like many of his relatives,” Shea said. “The Moroccan government should stand for rights and resist Saudi efforts to forcibly return him.”