Saudi political prisoners launch hunger strike

Saudi political prisoners launch hunger strike
Saudi political prisoners launch hunger strike

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Three prominent Saudi political prisoners - blogger Raif Badawi, activist Khaled al-Omari, and lawyer and human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair, have gone on hunger strike in prison to protest the conditions they are being held under and their arbitrary detention.

The “Prisoners of Conscience” Twitter account, which monitors the situation of Saudi political prisoners, said on Sunday evening that Abu al-Khair and Badawi began their hunger strike on December 11 in protest at being held in solitary confinement.

The account added that Khaled al-Omair began his hunger strike on Sunday to protest his arbitrary detention and the “anti-terrorism” law he is being held under.

Raif al-Badawi ran a blog about political liberalism and was arrested in 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. He is now serving a 10 year prison sentence, and was also sentenced to 1000 lashes and publicly flogged 50 times in 2015.

His lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Kheir, who founded the “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia”  was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for “undermining the regime and officials” and “inciting public opinion”.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International slammed Saudi Arabia for its “outrageous” treatment of Abu al-Khair, who has gone on hunger strike before to protest his treatment.

Khaled al-Omair, who began his hunger strike on Sunday, was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2008 for trying to organise a demonstration against the Israeli war on Gaza which began on 27 December that year. After being released in 2017 (six months after his sentence had expired), he was re-arrested in 2018 after filing a complaint with the Royal Court against a prison officer who tortured him.

Al-Omair smuggled out a message written on tissue paper in which he said, “I hereby declare that I am going on hunger strike from Sunday 22 December 2019 until such time as I am released unconditionally and without restriction, since I have been detained for longer than the legal period without charge and without being brought to court, and without having obtained any of my rights that I am guaranteed under the law.”

“I also declare that I refuse to recognise the Counterterrorism Law and other, similar laws because they are designed to silence anyone with an opinion that differs from the government’s opinion,” he added.

He also said that he had tried several times to meet with representatives of the Saudi Human Rights Commission and Public Prosecution but his requests had been denied, and “urgently requested” an interview with an envoy of the UN Human Rights Council.

Thousands of political prisoners languish in Saudi jails. They include reformist clerics and women’s and human rights activists. Some are serving long prison terms and others face the death penalty on spurious and vague charges. Prisoners have also died in custody due to ill treatment and medical neglect.

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