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Rights group denounces Qatar for deporting Saudi activist

Amnesty said the deportation of Mohammad al-Otaibi who risks torture in Saudi Arabia is 'shameful and inhumane'
Mohammad al-Otaibi was deported amid a diplomatic row between Doha and Riyadh over 'fake' comments attributed to Qatar's emir (AFP)

Qatar deported Saudi human rights activist Mohammad al-Otaibi to his homeland when he tried to fly with his wife to Norway where he had been granted political asylum, the rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The rights group condemned Qatar, calling Otaibi's deportation "shameful and inhuman".

Otaibi, who faces charges in Saudi Arabia for setting up an independent organisation and sending tweets deemed "offensive" to the kingdom, was arrested at Doha airport on 24 May and returned hours later to Saudi Arabia, an Amnesty statement said.

Qatar's official news agency QNA confirmed the deportation and quoted a foreign ministry source as saying it was "based on legal procedures and regional and international agreements relating to the extradition of accused persons and criminals".

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Otaibi was deported on the same day that Doha and Riyadh were involved in a diplomatic row over statements attributed to Qatar’s ruler that were critical of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

The comments, published on QNA, were fabricated and planted by hackers, Qatari authorities said. Still, Egypt and Saudi Arabia responded by blocking Qatari-linked news websites, including Al Jazeera.

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Saudi authorities have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for online posts deemed insulting to the absolute monarchy or threatening to public order.

The kingdom bans political parties and public forms of protest, and has sentenced members of a civil rights organisation, who campaigned for a constitutional monarchy, to decades in prison.

Otaibi travelled to Qatar in February after Saudi authorities lifted a travel ban against him related to a previous conviction for human rights activity. He was granted asylum in Norway while living in Doha, according to Amnesty.

"Forcibly returning Mohammad al-Otaibi to Saudi Arabia under the guise of judicial cooperation, where he risks torture and an unfair trial, is a shameful and inhuman act on the part of the Qatari authorities and a blatant violation of international law," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research director, said in a statement.

Maalouf also called on the Saudi government to stop the suppression of dissent.

"He is a prisoner of conscience. The Saudi Arabian authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally and put an end to their relentless crackdown on human rights defenders," she said.