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SAUDI ARABIA: A national hunger strike

November 6, 2008 |  8:59 am

Bloggers, students, doctors, businessmen and other Saudi activists today began a national hunger strike to protest a judicial system that frequently imprisons political opponents.

Matrouk“We want to bring attention to those detainees who have been jailed indefinitely with no trial or access to lawyers,” said Mohammad Qahtani, a professor and talk-show host participating in the two-day hunger strike. “But we also want to fix the repressive judicial system in Saudi Arabia.”

Such an act of defiance is a rare and risky move in a kingdom that forbids protests and gatherings by political dissidents. The hunger strike, which was publicized on a Facebook group, urged Saudis to participate by fasting at home. It’s an intriguing cyberspace protest: stay near your computer in an act that is at once personal and public.   

“My wife is taking part too,”  Qahtani said. “Sixty nine-people in Saudi Arabia have signed up for the strike and one lady in Minnesota who runs a human rights group.”

The hunger strike calls attention to the plight of 11 jailed activists, including Matrouk H. Faleh, a political science professor at King Saud University, who was arrested in May for publicly criticizing conditions in Saudi jails, and Suliman Ibrahim Reshoudi, a former judge and human rights activist detained in February 2007.

There is, however, one caveat. The activists in this ultra-conservative Islamic state may not be able to keep track of how much publicity the strike is attracting: the kingdom bans many websites. 

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Matrouk Faleh. Credit: faculty.ksu.edu.sa

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