Summary and Current Status
Matrouk al-Faleh, a Saudi Arabian political scientist and human rights advocate, was released from prison on January 10, 2009, after being detained in for more than seven months without charge or trial. He was arrested on May 19, 2008, in his office at King Saud University, where he is a professor of political science. Although the Saudi authorities never publicly disclosed the reason for his arrest, it is believed to be related to an article he wrote and emailed to human rights activists and journalists two days earlier. His article criticized the harsh conditions of confinement in al-Buraida General Prison, where he had recently met with two human rights advocates, fellow academic Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid and Dr. al-Hamid’s brother, Isaa, for whom he was acting as legal representative. Subsequently, they were released from prison.
Throughout his seven months of detention, Professor al-Faleh reportedly was held in al-Ha’ir prison in solitary confinement and was refused access to legal counsel and medical attention. It is our understanding that he was allowed family visits only sporadically. Amnesty International adopted Professor al-Faleh as a prisoner of conscience.
Matrouk al-Faleh is a 55-year-old Saudi political scientist. Until his arrest in May 2008, he was a professor of political science at King Saud University in Riyadh. Professor al-Faleh is also one of Saudi Arabia’s leading human rights advocates. The CHR first undertook his case in 2004 when he was imprisoned on charges of “sowing dissent” and “disobeying the ruler” after criticizing the newly created governmental National Commission on Human Rights for its lack of independence from the government and for signing a petition advocating the transformation of the Saudi kingdom into a constitutional monarchy. At that time he was sentenced to six years in prison, but was granted a royal pardon after serving 18 months.
On May 19, 2008, Professor al-Faleh was arrested in his office at King Saud University by 15 members of the Saudi secret police. The police reportedly seized his computer, computer equipment, and cell phone. He was arrested and taken to the General Investigation unit of the Ministry of the Interior (al-Mabahith al-‘Amma). According to press accounts, Professor al-Faleh twice refused to be interrogated, stating that it is illegal in Saudi Arabia to interrogate a person without the presence of a lawyer and without informing the prisoner of the charges being brought against them. When he refused a third time, his hands and feet reportedly were shackled, and, according to Amnesty International, he was transferred to al-Ha’ir Prison, a maximum security facility for political detainees in Riyadh.
The Saudi Arabian authorities never gave an official reason for Professor al-Faleh’s detention. As noted above, however, it is believed that his arrest was related to an article that he wrote and disseminated by email two days before his arrest. In his article Professor al-Faleh reported that al-Buraida General Prison was dirty and overcrowded and specifically mentioned that 30-40 prisoners were kept in a cell appropriate in size for only 8-10 prisoners. He also reportedly said that the prisoners did not have access to adequate medical care and noted that a prisoner had recently died as a result of medical neglect. In addition he wrote that the prison’s visiting area was like “a chicken coop” and the procedures to visit detainees were laborious. At the time, Professor al-Faleh was acting as legal representative to two brothers who were serving four and six month prison sentences for “incitement to protest.” They were convicted for supporting and joining a peaceful demonstration outside al-Buraida General Prison by women relatives of political detainees who were calling for their relatives to either be charged and given fair trials or released. The brothers had been adopted by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience and have since been released from prison.
Professor al-Faleh was detained for more than seven and a half months. According to Amnesty International, Article 114 of Saudi Arabia’s Law on Criminal Procedure (LCP) stipulates that detainees must be tried or released after six months. Furthermore, Article 4 of the LCP states that detainees have the right to legal counsel to represent them both during the investigation and the trial.
According to Amnesty International, Professor al-Faleh reportedly was denied access to medical attention throughout his detention. He suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, skin irritation, and rheumatism and reportedly went on a hunger strike for 20 days to protest the authorities’ refusal to give a reason for his arrest.
According to the international press, on November 7 and 8, 2008, more than 70 Saudis went on a two-day hunger strike, without food and water, to protest the ongoing detention without charge or trial of Professor al-Faleh, as well as 10 other dissidents. The group who organized the peaceful protest issued a statement on the website Facebook as well as several Arabic websites, urging people to take part in the hunger strike individually in their homes to avoid a ban on assembly. The statement said that the group wanted to bring attention to the detention without charge or trial of the dissidents and demand that the government either charge or release them.