The unexplained death on 19 July of Saudi journalist Saleh al-Shehi, just two months after his unexpected release from prison, raises many questions, and calls for an international investigation into his death.
Saleh al-Shehi, a well-known newspaper columnist, was arrested in January 2018 and put on trial with unusual speed before the Specialised Criminal Court, where he was charged, convicted and sentenced in a single session on 8 February to five years in prison. He was charged with “insulting the royal court” after criticising Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s so-called anti-corruption drive.
On 19 May 2020, after serving two and a half years of his five-year sentence, al-Shehi was unexpectedly released. The terms of his release are unknown, including whether it was to be permanent or temporary. In June 2020 al-Shehi was transferred to intensive care in hospital, and he died on 19 July. The Saudi authorities have reported that he died from Covid-19; however his death, like the circumstances of his release, remains highly ambiguous.
Al-Shehi’s death follows that of the iconic reformer and human rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid, who died on 23 April 2020 as a result of deliberate medical neglect during his unjust detention as a prisoner of conscience.
ALQST calls for an impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigation into Saleh al-Shehi’s death, led by international experts. Furthermore, the Saudi authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.