Saudi Arabia: Writer and journalist Saleh Al-Shehi dies following release from prison
On 19 July 2020, writer and journalist Saleh Al-Shehi died in Saudi Arabia. He spent two and a half years in prison before being released on 19 May 2020, while serving a five-year sentence in violation of his right to free expression. Al-Shehi was in intensive care in a medical facility in Arar city since 15 June 2020 and was then transferred to a hospital in the capital Riyadh, where he died. Reports have stated that he died from Covid-19, which he contracted last month, but reliable local sources told the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) that his health had already deteriorated while in prison.
Al-Shehi’s death follows that of another prisoner of conscience, prominent Saudi human rights defender Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, who died on 24 April 2020 after being transferred to hospital from prison in Riyadh, where he had been left in his cell for hours in a coma after suffering a stroke.
On 08 December 2018, Al-Shehi appeared on Ya Hala, a TV programme on Rotana Gulf, where he spoke about corruption inside the royal court, which led to his arrest on 03 January 2018. The late journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by the Saudi authorities inside their consulate in Istanbul on 02 October 2018, had said, “I heard moments ago about the arrest of colleague and friend Saleh Al-Shehi, he was the jewel of the last page of Al-Watan newspaper.”
On 08 February 2018, the Specialised Criminal Court sentenced him to five years in prison for “insulting, defaming and offending the royal court and its staff.”
Al-Shehi, who is married and has a daughter, Watan Al-Shehi, holds a Bachelor's degree in the Arabic language. He has worked in many newspapers, including Al-Watan newspaper, whose last page featured a column he wrote focused on the daily concerns of citizens in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, he used his Twitter account to publish his articles and shed light on the corruption of influential officials and others, whom he demanded be held accountable, accusing them of stealing the country's money. He adopted a reform line and fought corruption in state institutions, which led to his suspension from writing for a month twice due to his criticism of ministers in the Saudi government, and then his subsequent arrest.
GCHR expresses its deep sorrow at the loss of Saleh Al-Shehi and believes that his arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and trial are solely due to his peaceful journalistic activities and his fight against corruption. GCHR believes that his imprisonment had an impact on his health that contributed to his death shortly after his release.
GCHR calls on the Saudi government to immediately allow an international committee of independent experts to conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death and to publish the results of the investigation and its recommendations locally and internationally in order to take the necessary measures to protect prisoners.