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Leading Saudi activist dies in detention: campaigners

A leading Saudi activist serving an 11-year jail sentence has died in detention, campaigners said on Friday, highlighting the kingdom’s human rights record.

Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, died after suffering a stroke in his prison cell earlier this month, according to multiple rights groups including Amnesty International.

“Dr al-Hamid was a fearless champion for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends, who for the past eight years had been deprived of his presence as a result of the state’s inhumane repression,” she added.

“He, and all other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia, should never have been in jail in the first place.”

Hamid was a founding member of leading rights group the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013, campaigners said.

He faced multiple charges, including “breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security, according to Amnesty.

“It is unconscionable that Abdullah al-Hamid was forced to spend his final years in prison merely for criticising Saudi Arabia’s rampant human rights abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Other members of ACPRA have also been imprisoned in the past, including another co-founder Mohammad al-Qahtani, who was jailed for 10 years in 2013, Amnesty said.

Saudi Arabia has long faced international criticism over its human rights record.

That criticism has grown since Mohammed bin Salman was named crown prince and heir to the Saudi throne in June 2017.

The murder and dismembering of critic Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and the increased repression of dissidents have overshadowed the prince’s efforts to modernise the economy and society.