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A mysterious end to the life of a brave journalist in Saudi Arabia

Saleh al-Shehi

لقرائته بالعربية اضغط هنا

Writer and journalist Saleh al-Shehi passed away on 19 July 2020. On 26 June 2020, one of his relatives was informed that he had been hospitalized in intensive care at the North Medical Tower in the governorate of Arar for 10 days. He was released from prison unexpectedly on May 19, 28 months after his arrest on 3 January 2018, although he was supposed to complete an unjust sentence of five years in prison, followed by a five-year travel ban, due to his criticism of the corruption in the circle surrounding King Salman at the royal court.

There is still no information about his medical condition at the time of his unexpected release; however, he reportedly entered the hospital in the governorate of Arar on 16 June 2020, 33 days before his death, and according to the media, he was transferred from Arar to Riyadh. Official media outlets reported that he died of Coronavirus, which he contracted three weeks earlier, meaning that he was infected around 28 June 2020.

ESOHR stresses that Saudi media are not independent and that the government agencies that completely control the media cannot be trusted. It is also difficult to freely hear the opinion of families in Saudi Arabia, amidan atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Likewise, there are no independent judicial bodies to pursue justice for the people from government agencies that commit violations.

As far as ESOHR has observed, most official media outlets did not highlight the fact the al-Shehi was arrested.

Amid the complete crushing of civil society in Saudi Arabia and the rising number of deaths in Saudi prisons, ESOHR has little faith in Saudi media accounts. An independent investigation and medical efforts to determine al-Shehi’s cause of death are necessary steps, but they cannot be undertaken inside Saudi Arabia given the complete domination of the king and his son and their repressive apparatus over all aspects of the country.

Al-Shehi was arrested after he expressed solidarity with the Saudi media’s anti-corruption campaign, launched in November 2017, in which anti-corruption slogans were repeatedat the highest levels. These slogans led al-Shehi, known for his bold stances, to criticize the royal court, considered one of the main hotbeds of corruption in Saudi Arabiaand which the so-called November campaign did not reach. On 8 December 2017, during a TV appearance, al-Shehi criticized institutions at the root of administrative corruption in Saudi Arabia, giving as an example the royal court (office of the king): “If you know someone in the royal court, or you know a loophole in the royal court, or you know the chief of the royal court in Saudi Arabia, or you know the deputy chief of the royal court or the secretary of the chief of the royal court in Saudi Arabia, he can give you a land grant in a strategic and important location.”

Al-Shehi’s criticism, expressed at the height of Saudi Arabia’s promotion of its so-called anti-corruption campaign, led to a five-year prison sentence and a five-year travel ban, on charges of slandering and insulting a state organ (the royal court) and its employees during a TV interview.

Al-Shehi, aprominent and bold writer and journalistwithin Saudi circles, was known for his courageous stances and his support of disadvantaged groups. He wrote for several official Saudi newspapers, most notably Al Watan. Al-Shehi was also a member of the board of the Northern Border Literary Club, and was previously the managing editor of Culture magazine, published by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Britain.

Al-Shehi’s case is just one of many cases of death under various circumstances in Saudi prisons. His sudden release at a time when Saudi Arabia has rarely released prisoners of conscience in recent years, especially those convicted, in addition to other factors, raises doubts and conjecturesabout the responsibility of government agencies whose statements about his cause of death cannot be trusted.

ESOHR believes that al-Shehi’s death increases fear and concern for prisoners of conscience and activists, especially given the months-long interruption in communication between many detainees and their families and the lack of information regarding the detainees. This comes amid the uncertainty surrounding the reasons for this interruption and government agencies’ failure to respond by taking reassuring action, including ignoring the concerns and repeated, urgent inquiries of the family of Loujain al-Hathloul.

ESOHR stresses the importance of documenting cases of death by torture or medical neglect and prison-related deaths under clear or murky circumstances. ESOHR believes thatserious, urgent investigations must be launched in order to hold accountable all those involved.

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