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HRW calls on Bulgaria not to deport Saudi activist 

March 7, 2024 at 12:07 pm

Saudi activist Abdulrahman al-Khalidi is at imminent risk of deportation from Bulgaria [@AmnestyMENA/X]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has today urged authorities in Bulgaria to “immediately suspend” any plans to deport a Saudi human rights activist Abdulrahman Al-Khalidi to his native Saudi Arabia, over concerns that he will face “serious risk of arbitrary detention, torture and an unfair trial.”

Al-Khalidi has been a human rights activist for more than a decade, advocating for the rights of prisoners in the Kingdom and countering the government’s digital propaganda, including “online troll armies,” HRW said.

Heightening concerns over his safety, Al-Khalidi has also been subject to a torrent of online abuse by Saudi-linked influencers. In one social media post the activist was called a “traitor” and accused of “treachery” as well as conspiring to “seek to destroy the homeland and sell it to the enemies.” Another threatened that “the coming months will be catastrophic.”

“Abdulrahman al-Khalidi has spent more than a decade defending human rights at great personal risk, but he now faces a serious threat of detention and torture if Bulgarian authorities deport him to Saudi Arabia,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW.

“Despite the massive whitewashing efforts by Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record remains abysmal, and al-Khalidi is in grave danger of arbitrary detention and torture if forcibly returned.”

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“Bulgaria should not forcibly return Abdulrahman al-Khalidi to Saudi Arabia, given the systematic torture, ill-treatment and due process violations in the Saudi criminal justice system,” Shea added.

Al-Khalidi left Saudi Arabia in 2013, moving to Egypt, then Qatar, and finally Turkiye, before claiming asylum in Bulgaria in 2021, however Bulgarian authorities on 7 February issued a deportation order.

However, HRW argues that extraditing Al-Khalidi may violate Bulgaria’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.”

The organisation also points out that article 33 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, prohibits the “return of a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers or territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Bulgaria is a signatory to both conventions.

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