Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Sheikh Mekhlef bin Dahham al-Shammari, a writer, human rights activist and social reformer who was arrested on 15 June and who has yet to be taken before a judge.
His arrest is believed to have been prompted by his criticism of political and religious leaders, especially in articles posted on the Saudiyoon (www.saudiyoon.com)and Rasid (www.rasid.com) news websites. The main charge listed in his case file is the fanciful one of “annoying others.”
“This is far from being the first arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia but this case borders on the ridiculous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If they are holding Al-Shammari just for upsetting or annoying people, then a lot of Saudis are going to end up in prison.”
The press freedom organisation added: “His arrest is a blow to free speech and belies the Saudi government’s claims, to the United Nations in particular, that it is making progress on human rights. The international community must press for the release of Al-Shammari, a person committed to human values and entirely praiseworthy causes.”
Al-Shammari has been arrested several times in recent years, in part because of his defence of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. This year, his articles criticising the conservative interpretations of Islam promoted by Saudi officials led to his being arrested on 15 May and then released on bail. His latest arrest took place on 15 June in Jubail. He was transferred to Damman prison at the start of this month.
Ibrahim Al Mugaiteeb, the founder and head of the Human Rights First Society, said that, prior to this arrest, Al-Shammari had given him a special power of attorney to defend him. “Mr. Al-Shammari’s arrest is illegal. The prosecutor-general’s office has no evidence against him. His detention is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression.”
Al-Shammari often writes about poverty and unemployment, accusing the government of ignoring these problems because it is obsessed with public morality and keeping men and women apart. He has also highlighted the government’s failure to promote tourism and its discrimination against the Shiite minority.
Although a Sunni, he was very critical of the influential Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Arifi for referring to one of Iran’s most respected Shiite clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, as an “obscene atheist.”