Saudi Arabia: Walid Abu Al-Khair and Khalid Al-Omair remain on hunger strike

17.01.20

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received reports that human rights lawyer Walid Abu Al-Khair and human rights defender Khaled Al-Omair remain on hunger strike to protest ill-treatment, including being held in solitary confinement in prison.

Local sources stated that both defenders have been placed in solitary confinement. Abu Al-Khair was taken to hospital on 09 January 2020 after his health rapidly deteriorated, while authorities forcibly fed Al-Omair.

On 09 January 2020, Abu Al-Khair was transferred to King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah after his health deteriorated dramatically. He had started a hunger strike on 11 December 2019 to protest against the ill-treatment to which he was being subjected in Dhaban Prison. He was transferred to solitary confinement and banned from having any books. Prior to that, Abu Al-Khair undertook another hunger strike that started on 27 November 2019 and ended on 10 December 2019, but he continued his hunger strike the next day after the authorities did not respond to his demands and kept him in an isolation cell.

Abu Al-Khair is a prominent human rights lawyer who established the Human Rights Observatory in Saudi Arabia, a non-governmental organisation of which he was director. On 06 July 2014, the Specialised Criminal Court upheld his sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, a 15-year travel ban after his release, and a fine of 200,000 Saudi Riyals (approx. 48,000 Euros) on charges related to his human rights work.

Al-Omair announced his hunger strike in a leaked letter from Al-Ha'ir Political Prison that he had written on a piece of tissue. The letter, published by ALQST for Human Rights Organisation, stated, “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.” He added, “I am not a terrorist, and have done nothing more than simply express the opinion that our country needs a new constitution.”

Al-Omair has been held without charge since 06 July 2018 after filing a complaint with the Saudi Royal Court against one of the officers of the General Investigation Directorate, whom he alleges tortured him during his imprisonment from December 2008 to April 2017. The torture involved handcuffing his hands and feet, putting him in solitary confinement for nine consecutive days in an empty cell with nothing to sleep on (not even a blanket), and forcing him to stand for long hours. He previously undertook a 29-day hunger strike to protest being held in prison after his sentence expired in October 2016.

On 11 December 2019, imprisoned blogger and human rights defender Raif Badawi also started a hunger strike with Abu Al-Khair, who was his lawyer and brother-in-law, to protest being kept in solitary confinement in prison, where he is serving a ten-year sentence. Badawi’s family reported on Twitter that he called to tell them he ended his hunger strike in December.

GCHR calls on the Saudi authorities to end the practice of solitary confinement for Walid Abu Al-Khair, Khaled Al-Omair, Raif Badawi and all prisoners of conscience, and further calls for their immediate and unconditional release. In addition, the Saudi authorities should release all detained human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience, including women’s rights defenders, and provide the required protection to all citizens who work in the human rights field, while respecting public freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression.