Saudi dissident detained in Bulgaria risks deportation to Saudi Arabia despite fear of torture

Saudi dissident detained in Bulgaria risks deportation to Saudi Arabia despite fear of torture

Abdulrahman al-Khalidi is a Saudi citizen currently detained in Bulgaria. Al-Khalidi was a known dissident and political activist in Saudi Arabia. After threats from authorities and fearing reprisal for his activism, he fled Saudi Arabia and reached Bulgaria where he sought asylum. His asylum request was denied by the Bulgarian Refugee Agency, a decision that was upheld by lower courts. He is currently in detention and risks being deported to Saudi Arabia, where he may face arbitrary arrest and torture.

Between 2011 and 2013, Saudi law student Abdulrahman al-Khalidi was a political activist and a known dissident. He was active in the field of human rights, advocating for democratic reforms and participating in several civil society campaigns with prominent Saudi figures such as Omar Abdulaziz al-Zahrani and Jamal Khashoggi. Following a campaign of mass arrests undertaken by the Saudi authorities against his immediate surroundings in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, he decided to flee the country and seek refuge abroad. Following his stays in Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, he decided to head to the European Union in 2021 with the intention of applying for asylum.

Shortly after crossing the Turkish-Bulgarian border on 23 October 2021, he was arrested in Bulgaria for entering without a visa authorisation. He is currently detained in Busmantsi Detention Centre, near Sofia’s International Airport.

On November 16, 2021, he applied for asylum, but his request was denied by the Bulgarian Refugee State Agency. The Agency claimed that “official authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have taken” “measures to democratise society” and considered that “the personal motives he referred to for his desire to live in the Republic of Bulgaria cannot be evaluated as humanitarian.” He challenged the refusal of his asylum application by appealing to the Administrative Court in Sofia.

On 20 February 2023, the Administrative Court in Sofia rejected the appeal and upheld the decision of the Agency. The Administrative Court considered that the Bulgarian Refugee State Agency correctly assessed that Mr. al-Khalidi had no well-founded fear of persecution and he did not belong to any group that is at risk of persecution in Saudi Arabia.

His case is currently pending before the Administrative Supreme Court. The court is expected to deliver a final decision in the near future. In the event that the Supreme Court upholds the refusal of his asylum application, Mr. al-Khalidi would be consequently subjected to deportation proceedings to his country of origin. Should Mr. al-Khalidi be sent back to Saudi Arabia, he would face a well-founded fear of being subjected to torture, ill-treatments and even the death penalty for his past activism in Saudi Arabia.

On May 11, 2023, MENA Rights Group submitted his case to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

On 19 September 2023, Mr. al-Khalidi was heard before the Administrative Supreme Court. MENA Rights Group requested the intervention of UN Special Procedures mandate holders on 20 September 2023.

On 27 September 2023, the Court rendered its judgment and sent the case back to the lower court to be retried because of procedural vices.

Timeline

September 27, 2023: the Court renders its judgment and sends the case back to the lower court to be retried.
September 20, 2023: MENA Rights Group submits al-Khalidi's case to UN Special Procedures mandate holders.
19 September, 2023: Mr al-Khalidi is heard before the Administrative Supreme Court.
May 11, 2023: MENA Rights Group submits AlKhalidi's case to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
March 13, 2023: Al-Khalidi files an appeal to the Administrative Supreme Court against the rejection of his asylum claim.
February 20, 2023: The Administrative Court of Sofia rejects AlKhalidi’s appeal.
June 9, 2022: Al-Khalidi files an appeal against the rejection of his asylum claim to the Administrative Court of Sofia.
May 27, 2022: The Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees rejects AlKhalidi’s asylum claim.
February 14, 2022: Al-Khalidi’s complaint against his administrative detention is rejected.This decision cannot be appealed.
November 25, 2021: Al-Khalidi is transferred to Busmantsi detention center near Sofia, Bulgaria.
November 16, 2021: Al-Khalidi files an asylum request in Bulgaria.
October 25, 2021: Al-Khalidi is arrested in Bulgaria shortly after crossing the border from Turkey.

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