Publication date: 17/04/2020

Information has reached ALQST that Dr Abdullah al-Hamid – one of Saudi Arabia’s best known political detainees – is currently in intensive care at a hospital in Riyadh in critical condition. He has been in a coma since suffering a stroke on Thursday, 9 April in Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh.

Al-Hamid was already in deteriorating health, and was transferred to hospital more than three months ago. The doctor told him at the time that he urgently needed a heart catheterisation operation, but the authorities sent him back to prison and told him he would have the operation during Ramadan (late May-early June). Despite his worsening health and advanced age (he will be 70 this year), and despite the spread of coronavirus at the present time the authorities neither released Dr al-Hamid nor allow him to remain in hospital until the operation could be carried out, but sent him back to prison. There, they put him under heavy psychological pressure by denying him phone calls and visits on a number of occasions and refusing to let him inform his family or anyone else in the outside world about his state of health. They had previously made several members of his family give undertakings not to talk about al-Hamid – his brothers Abdulrahman and Issa were already in prison for their activism, along with Abdullah, in the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA). The authorities also purposely denied him phone calls and visits whenever his health deteriorated, and they deliberately threatened to cut off his phone calls when he spoke about or alluded to his worsening state of health. They closely monitored his calls as well as his conversations with other prisoners for fear that word of his deteriorating health would leak out to the outside world. This went on for several months until he passed out unconscious in prison on 9 April and was transferred to hospital.

The hospital carried out medical tests including testing for Covid-19. The results came back negative for coronavirus but showed he had had a severe cerebral stroke that had left him in a coma. He has been in the hospital’s intensive care unit since then.

ALQST condemns this gross and apparently deliberate medical negligence, and maintains that al-Hamid – a pioneering advocate of reform in Saudi Arabia – has suffered a huge amount of abuse, over and over again, from the authorities. They have jailed him about seven times in all, most recently since 9 March 2013, when the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced him in a trial of ACPRA members to five years in prison on top of the remainder of a previous sentence, in a case involving three reformers, making a total of eleven years, plus a ban on foreign travel for a further five years. 

He was severely tortured during previous periods in prison, resulting in a loss of hearing in one ear from repeated beatings during interrogation. Later, the authorities deliberately placed him in unsuitable prisons as a means of harassment, such as one where none of the other prisoners spoke Arabic, and a prison holding inmates convicted of major criminal offences. Recently, following the deterioration in his health, they have deliberately denied him visits and phone calls on a number of occasions, and failed to comply with medical recommendations regarding his health. They have not released him despite the spread of coronavirus, his advanced age, and his worsening state of health. They have deliberately prevented him from talking to his family or anyone else about his health, as well as repeatedly threatening him and abusing him in prison until he went into a coma on Thursday.

ALQST holds the Saudi authorities fully responsible for the health, the safety and the life of pioneering reformer Dr Abdullah al-Hamid, and calls on the international community to pressure the authorities to stop behaving recklessly with people’s lives, and instead step up to their responsibilities regarding the health and safety of prison inmates, and immediately release all prisoners of conscience without conditions or restrictions. We call for everyone to take action to prevent al-Hamid’s life being endangered.

Dr Abdullah al-Hamid (background)

  • Born on 12 July 1950 in al-Qusai’a on the outskirts of Buraydah
  • Studied Sharia Law and Arabic Language in Riyadh before specialising in Arabic Language, graduating in 1971
  • MA (1974) and PhD (1978)  in Literature and Criticism from Faculty of Arabic Studies, Al-Azhar University
  • In 1993, helped to set up a human rights committee, after which he was dismissed from his university post and arrested for the first time on 16 June 1993, together with Dr Mohammad al-Massari, followed by 20 more members of the committee
  • Arrested a second time in 1994
  • Arrested for the third time in 1995. The key question in his interrogation was about a phrase in his book “Human Rights”, where he said there was no “His Highness” or “His Lowness” in Islam
  • Arrested for the fourth time on 28 March 2003 along with a dozen other reformers calling for a constitution. In mid-December 2003 more than 100 Saudi reformers issued a petition (“Constitutional Reform or Not”) calling for Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy with separation of powers, reform of the judiciary and a crackdown on corruption. A group of reformers, most of them signatories to the petition, later held a meeting and decided to issue another statement criticising the National Human Rights Society and asking to be allowed to set up an independent association, but on 16 March 2004 the Minister of Interior arrested most of those who had attended the meeting.
  • Arrested for the fifth time on 8 March 2008 after voicing support for a peaceful sit-in held by women in Buraydah. He was sentenced to six months in detention but released on 27 August of that year along with his brother Issa, who had been sentenced over the same case to four months
  • Arrested for the sixth time on 9 March 2013 after the Specialised Criminal Court issued its verdict in the ACPRA case, sentencing him to five years in prison on top of the remainder of a previous sentence, in a case involving al-Hamid and two other reformers, making a total of eleven years, plus a ban on foreign travel for a further five years. He was taken into custody that same day
  • Transferred from prison to hospital on 9 April 2020 after falling into a coma, and admitted to intensive care as a result of a cerebral stroke
  • Underwent severe torture in prison on a number of occasions, and was subjected to multiple forms of harassment by the Saudi authorities
  • Led and participated in many reformist activities and gave many lectures and seminars, and wrote articles and books, calling for reform
  • In September 2018, won the Right Livelihood Award — known as “the alternative Nobel Prize” — jointly with his colleague Mohammed al-Qahtani and activist Waleed Abu al-Khair
  • In March 2020 Abdullah al-Hamid and his ACPRA colleagues won the Netherlands’ top human rights prize, the Geuzenpenning award
  • Previously nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
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