More than 30 prisoners of conscience, including human rights activists Mohammed al-Qahtani, Fawzan al-Harbi, Essa al-Nukheifi, Fahad al-Araini and writer Mohammed al-Hudaif, have been on hunger strike since 6 March 2021 in protest over harassment in al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. Rights activist Abdulaziz al-Sunaidi, held in Onayza Prison in al-Qassim, has also joined the hunger strike.
On 11 March 2021, Essa al-Nukheifi was transferred to hospital suffering from low blood sugar as a result of the hunger strike.
The prisoners, who include activists, journalists and writers, are protesting against harassment and ill-treatment by prison officials. Those on hunger strike in al-Ha’ir Prison are being held in the same ward as psychiatric detainees, some of whom have been violent towards them, and are being denied family contact and access to books and newspapers.
Their ill-treatment is part of a pattern of harassment to which the majority of prisoners of conscience are subjected in Saudi prisons. The Saudi authorities deliberately make life difficult for them and deny them their basic rights even behind bars.
In September 2020, ALQST learned that the Saudi authorities were preventing rights activist Abdulaziz al-Sunaidi from receiving visits or phone calls, repeatedly placing him in isolation, and threatening and psychologically torturing him.
Human rights activist Essa al-Nukhaifi has also suffered various forms of harassment on many occasions, and has lodged numerous complaints to no avail. In one instance he was transferred to a prison wing where there were individuals present who had given evidence that helped secure his conviction.
Mohammed al-Qahtani and Fawzan al-Harbi, founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); activists Essa al-Nukheifi, Abdulaziz al-Sunaidi and Fahad al-Araini; and writer Mohammed al-Hudaif are serving prison sentences of between five and 10 years on charges relating to their peaceful human rights work and their exercising the right of free speech.
In a bid to secure their basic rights, prisoners have frequently gone on hunger strike. Between 19 and 30 December 2020, Mohammed al-Qahtani undertook a hunger strike in protest at being denied family contact, access to books and essential medication, which he ended after the authorities said they would meet his demands.
ALQST calls on the Saudi authorities to fulfil their responsibilities regarding the health and safety of all detainees, and to immediately release all prisoners of conscience.