Prominent Saudi rights activist Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, has died in custody in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, according to rights groups and a Swedish foundation that awarded him a renowned prize.
The Right Livelihood Foundation, which awards the prize known as the Alternative Nobel, said on Friday al-Hamid, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence, was taken to hospital after suffering from ill-health in a Riyadh prison earlier this year.
He subsequently had a stroke and fell into a coma in early April, according to 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.”
The Right Livelihood Foundation said al-Hamid was repeatedly denied crucial medical care and “paid the ultimate price for his convictions”.
Ole von Uexkull, head of the foundation, which awards the one million kronor ($99,000) prize, blamed Saudi authorities for his death, saying that al-Hamid’s “unlawful imprisonment and inhumane treatment … led to his death”.
“We hold Saudi authorities directly responsible for al-Hamid’s death, as they have deliberately denied him access to proper medical care for many months during his imprisonment,” von Uexkull added in a statement.
The foundation said in a statement that al-Hamid was tortured and harassed during his unlawful detention.
When hospitalised in January, al-Hamid was recommended to urgently undergo heart surgery, but was denied medical care leading to the deterioration of his health.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia.
Prisoners of Conscience, a Twitter account which documents the situation of political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, said al-Hamid died due to “intentional [medical negligence] in prison that led to his death after he had a brain stroke and went into a coma for 15 days”.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, wrote on Twitter that it is “sad news on this first day of Ramadan”.
“Prisoner of conscience, poet, human rights activist Dr Abdullah al-Hamid dies in custody in Saudi Arabia. RIP,” Callamard wrote.
“[The UN has] called for prisoners of conscience to be released from custody in the wake of COVID-19.”
The Saudi regime has come under increasing international scrutiny for its handling of critics and human rights activists ever since the state murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul in 2018 attracted global attention to Riyadh’s treatment of dissidents.
The Saudi kingdom has, however, been continuing with its numerous human rights abuses mainly due to extensive economic ties with and the political backing of Western countries.