Mohammad al Qahtani is a human rights defender and founding member of the Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of Saudi Arabia’s few independent human rights organizations. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence for peacefully calling for reforms. His mother passed away on 23 April 2017 and he was offered three days’ compassionate leave from prison to attend her funeral. Mohammad, however, chose to refuse the offer in protest of his ongoing unfair detention.
His wife, Maha, wrote this letter to Mohammad following his difficult decision.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
And I’m sorry I got so upset on the phone. I couldn’t understand your decision. Or maybe I understood it, but in my moment of weakness, I refused to listen. The authorities were offering you three days of compassionate leave to attend your mother’s funeral.
Selfishly, I immediately thought: “Take the offer! Please take the offer so that your loved ones can see you even if just for a few hours!”
I wanted you to see your family and friends, even if only briefly, and to say goodbye to your mum, even though she was unfairly deprived of seeing you during the last years of her life.
And your friends all felt the same: “Tell Mohammad to take the leave!” they pleaded with me.
And so I pressured you. Five years of pain and anger and injustice have taken their toll on me. I think about what you said to me all the time and now understand.
“My mother is gone,” you said.
“I was denied her beautiful face for years when she was alive and well. Five years they’ve kept me in jail on false accusations. Now they want me to see my mother? After she passed away?
“May God, the Most Merciful, grant her everlasting peace. All I can do now is pray for her.
“You tell me to take their ‘compassionate’ leave? Where was their compassion when they threw me and my friends in jail for standing up for human rights? When they took our children and our families away from us? When I was forbidden from seeing my youngest child, my beloved Layla?
“Where was their compassion then? I refuse to take these crumbs of compassion. I refuse to abandon my friends in here.”
I knew – in my broken heart – how difficult it must have been for you to make yet another sacrifice for what you believe in. But I also knew that you can only be okay when you’re free in your convictions, when you’re standing up for what’s right, no matter how heartbreaking, when you’re refusing to compromise.
Do not send your condolences to Mohammad but send them to a nation that put Mohammad and his friends behind bars.
Mohammad, you will always be my love and my inspiration – no matter how dark the night is, no matter how long. The sun will rise to a new day where we will all be breathing freedom.
All my love,Maha
Mohammad al-Qahtani is a prisoner of conscience and should not be in jail in the first place. Amnesty International calls on King Salman to release him immediately and unconditionally.
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