Skip to main content

Saudi dissident in Bulgaria says deportation order issued

Abd al-Rahman al-Khalidi, 29, and other dissidents who fled Saudi Arabia after criticising the monarchy, dread being flown back to their home country
— Dubai (AFP)

A Saudi dissident who has unsuccessfully sought asylum in Bulgaria told AFP Sunday he received a deportation order and now fears he could be sent back to the Gulf kingdom any day.

"A deportation order was issued to me before my asylum case was even concluded," Abd al-Rahman al-Khalidi told AFP from his detention cell in Sofia, specifying he had been notified of the order on February 7.

Mary Lawlor, United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said on social media last week that Khalidi's "imminent deportation" was "extremely disturbing", calling Saudi Arabia "a dangerous place".

In 2011, Khalidi was active during rare demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the country's Shiite minority is concentrated, following the Middle East's Arab Spring uprisings.

He fled to Turkey in 2013, then travelled on foot to Bulgaria in 2021 when his passport expired, seeking protection in the European Union.

Bulgarian authorities concluded in 2022 that Khalidi had not adequately demonstrated he would face persecution back home, according to a Bulgarian lawyer who worked on the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Khalidi was trying to appeal that decision when he was notified of the deportation order.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler who became first in line to the throne in 2017, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a severe crackdown on dissent, according to rights groups and activists.

Khalidi's fears for his safety intensified last year when Hassan al-Rabie, a fellow Saudi dissident, was extradited from Morocco, where he had sought temporary refuge.

"If I'm deported to Saudi Arabia I'd face prison, unfair trial, torture, forcible disappearance or even execution," said the 30-year-old father of two.

"I resorted to the EU, where humans have value, and I am in limbo as if I'm in Saudi Arabia."

Bulgaria's State Agency for National Security did not immediately respond to questions about the case on Sunday.

Adela Kachaunova of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, told AFP that lawyers had until Monday to appeal the deportation order.

If the court rejects the appeal, her organisation is prepared to bring Khalidi's case before the European Court of Human Rights within "hours".

"We are already ready with the text," she said, adding that the European court usually "answers such requests very quickly".