Saudi Arabia should release hunger-striker Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady

The Saudi Arabian authorities must release a prominent human rights activist who is reported to have been on hunger strike for five weeks in protest at his continuing unfair imprisonment, Amnesty International said today.

Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, co-founder of the unregistered NGO the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), has reportedly refused to take water since last weekend - heightening fears for his health. According to reports from trusted sources, Al-Bajady has been on the hunger strike in Riyadh's al-Ha’ir prison since 11 March and has been refusing water since 7 April. He has also refused family visits and phone calls.

On 10 April, an interior ministry spokesman told news agencies that Al-Bajady was not on hunger strike and that he is in good health. His legal defence team have not been allowed to see him since his arrest or to attend his trial, as their right to represent him is not recognised by the court. They were not let in to hearings despite standing outside the court for hours.

Charged with being a member of ACPRA, harming the reputation of the state and possessing banned books, Al-Bajady has been on trial since August at the Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to try Security with human rights-related offences. He was arrested on 21 March 2011 in the town of Buraydah, in the province of Qasim, north of Riyadh, a day after attending a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Riyadh by families of detainees arbitrarily held. A number of men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights at the protest were also arrested, with the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights said to have been released after being made to fingerprint statements confirming that they had attended the protest. The men are believed to be still detained.

After his arrest Al-Bajady was taken to his home and office by uniformed agents and men in civilian clothes believed to have been members of the interior ministry's internal security service, where they confiscated books, documents and laptops from his home and his office.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady is a prisoner of conscience held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. All charges against him should be dropped and he should be released immediately.

“His hunger strike makes his release all the more urgent as his health must be deteriorating with each day he refuses food and water.”

On 5 March last year the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior confirmed a long-standing ban against demonstrations in the country following protests by the minority Shi’a Muslim community in the Eastern Province and amid reports that further protests calling for reform were planned. A ministry spokesperson said that security forces would take “all necessary measures” against those who attempt to disrupt order.

Amnesty has documented the repression of protesters in Saudi Arabia as well as the continuing repression of human rights activists, political dissidents and critics of the authorities, a number of whom have been detained and, in some cases, tried and imprisoned. While they are often accused and convicted of security-related offences in courts set up to deal with security and terrorism-related offences, the acts which they are alleged to have committed generally appear to involve merely the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

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