Despite the Saudi regime’s policy of blocking reporting of its human rights violations, the family of relatives of political detainees and human rights activists are occasionally able to reveal details of the abuses their families have suffered.
Nasser Al-Qarni, the son of detained academic Awad al-Qarni, has revealed the details of his father’s arrest five years ago, and described the scene as a “war zone”.
In a video published online, Nasser has reported that, ‘immediately after sunset on 9 September, 2017, two cars came to my father’s house. Some men knocked on the door and my father spoke to them through the intercom. They told him “we are guests from outside the region”, so he went to receive them. After he opened the door, they grabbed him and – wearing civilian clothes – tried to enter the house. My father closed the door behind him, because of the presence of elders and children in the house.
“A few minutes after”, said Nasser, “around 30 cars, military vehicles, and various emergency services came. They searched the house and confiscated all of the electronic devices, even the children’s toys, and various business phones in the house. Their search continued until ten o’clock that night.”
He continued: “Everyone in the house was scared. They tried to restrain my father in front of his children, who were searched and then locked in a small room. The sound of their crying filled the house throughout the search. Everyone had guns pointed at them.
“My brother and I had been out. When arrived we were amazed at the sight, as it there was a war happening – more than 100 men armed with pistols and machine guns maintaining a cordon around the house, who prevented us from entering by force of arms.”
As Nasser continued, “we did not enter the house for three hours. When we entered we saw the state of the house – as if monsters had ransacked it. Then, they took my father by force, and told us that he would return in two days. It is now October 2022, and the house is still missing my father.”
Al-Qarni’s detention was as part of a campaign of arrests of activists, intellectuals, academics and advocates. He faces charges that may involve death penalty, such as “disobeying the ruler”, “promoting sedition”, and “destabilizing state security”, all of which are denied by al-Qarni, who has suffered various health problems whilst detained.
Last Saturday (1 October), his son, Nasser al-Qarni, announced that in order to defend his father and for fear of arrest, he has left the Kingdom for a safer place. He has since criticized the country’s human rights record.
Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received his mandate on 29 April, 2015, numerous prominent activists in the country have been subject to arrest and detention on charges such as of “terrorism and conspiracy against the state”. Despite demands to release them from various international human rights organisations and public figures, Saudi authorities have continued to use unfair trials and extremely harsh sentences – some of which amount to a death penalty – against activists in the country.