Rights group urges Saudi Arabia to free activist


Saudi secret police arrested Matruk al-Faleh, a political science university professor, on Monday after he criticised a prison where two other Saudi activists are serving jail terms, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.


"Saudi Arabia’s arrest of … Faleh confirms that human rights advocacy in that country remains a risky business," said Joe Stork, deputy director at Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. "By suppressing peaceful dissent, Saudi Arabia only stands to gain further notoriety as an abuser of human rights."


Faleh’s family has not been told why he was arrested or if he had been charged, it said.


Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Mansour could not be reached for comment.


Two days before his arrest, Faleh emailed a statement to activists and journalists complaining about conditions at Buraida prison, north of the capital Riyadh, where fellow activists Abdullah al-Hamed and Isa al-Hamed are being held.


"(It) described the laborious visiting procedures and likened the visiting area to ‘a chicken coop’ … An ear infection causing Abdullah al-Hamed’s ear to bleed had gone untreated because of the absence of a doctor," HRW said.


The Hamed brothers are serving prison sentences for supporting a demonstration that took place in front of Buraida’s secret police prison by wives and relatives of long-term Islamist detainees held there without charge or trial, it said.


The group said unhygienic conditions, overcrowding, and poor health services in Saudi prisons contribute to inmate deaths.



Faleh was one of three activists sentenced to seven years in jail in 2005 over calls for reform in Saudi Arabia’s political system.


The three were pardoned in the same year by King Abdullah when he came to power but two of them, including Faleh, have since been re-arrested.


Rights groups say activists have been encouraged by the atmosphere of openness promoted by King Abdullah who is portrayed in the media as a supporter of social, economic and political reforms in the Islamic kingdom, which is trying to shed its closed image.

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