Comatose Saudi human rights activist remains in jail amid COVID-19 pandemic


While a number of prisons around the world are releasing inmates to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, Saudi Arabian authorities continue to detain a prisoner of conscience despite being in a coma and in critical condition, Amnesty International said.

Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid, a prominent human rights campaigner serving an 11-year sentence for his peaceful activism, suffered a stroke on April 09 and is currently in a coma in the intensive care unit at al-Shumaisi Hospital in Riyadh.

Dr. al-Hamid has hypertension, and was told three months ago by a doctor that he needed to undergo heart surgery in the months ahead. He was threatened by prison authorities that if he told his family about his health condition, they would cut his communication with his family.

“It is heartbreakingly cruel that Dr Abdullah al-Hamid remains in detention, even while in a coma,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“Dr al-Hamid, and all other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia, should never have been in jail in the first place. All those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their human rights must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Conditions in several of Saudi Arabia’s overcrowded prisons significantly raise the risk of COVID-19 spreading. Amnesty International has previously expressed concern over the authorities’ failure to provide adequate medical care in the country’s prisons.

Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, is a founding member of the independent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA).

As a human rights defender, writer and academic, he has written extensively on human rights and the independence of judiciary. He was a professor of contemporary literature at al-Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh before being dismissed for his activism. He is married and has eight children.

In March 2012, Dr al-Hamid and Mohammad al-Qahtani were arrested and interrogated regarding their work with ACPRA and their peaceful activism.

In March 2013, they were sentenced to 11 and 10 years in prison respectively, on charges of “breaking allegiance to the ruler”, “questioning the integrity of officials”, “seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations”, and “instigating international organizations against the Kingdom”.

“Older prisoners and those with existing health conditions who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 should also be immediately considered for release or alternatives to detention. All those still awaiting trial should also be released,” Maalouf said. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)