Saudi democracy activist freed at last!

I READ the good news this morning: Saudi Arabian human rights and democracy activist Matrook Al-Faleh was released from jail in Riyadh after more than seven months in jail.

Matrook was never officially charged with any crime, and was seemingly arrested for displeasing the government last May when he published a report harshly criticizing the conditions inside Saudi jails. A professor of political science at King Saud University in Riyadh, he was arrested by plainclothes policemen at his office on the university campus.

His wife, Jamila al-Ukula, is a brave woman that I first met in Riyadh a few years ago outside a courthouse when we were waiting to hear the sentence of Matrook and two of his fellow activist colleagues after they called for more democracy in the kingdom and were arrested for more than a year.

I had a long interview with Matrook in Riyadh months after he was released and found him to be very intelligent, kind and concerned with the future of Saudi Arabia.

According to the revised Saudi Penal Code, no one is supposed to be held for more than six months in the kingdom without being formally charged. The authorities rarely follow their own laws, which is a shame really.

I just look forward to the day when intellectuals and acitivists will have the freedom to openly speak their minds in the kingdom and not face six to seven months in jail–in solitary confinement! Authorities should welcome balanced and intelligent criticism of the laws and their actions. It is only that way that the country will improve.


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