The reported denial of healthcare to Abdullah al-Hamid was “morally wrong” and “unacceptable”, a prominent European politician said on Monday, following the death of the Saudi human rights defender in prison last week.
Al-Hamid was “a pioneer” in advocating for Saudi Arabia to recognise the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said Maria Arena, the Belgian chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
“I am shocked to hear that one of Saudi Arabia’s leading human rights voices has passed away in prison at the age of 69, while serving an 11-year prison sentence,” she said.
“He dedicated his whole life to fighting against harmful practices and to protecting all those defending basic rights and freedoms in his country.”
Many Saudi human rights activists, women’s rights activists, and peaceful dissidents are currently detained in the country on accusations that relate to human rights work, and reports of poor treatment in prisons are frequent.
“Saudi authorities were aware of Professor al-Hamid’s poor health since early 2020,” said Arena, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats grouping in the parliament.
“Denying proper medical care to detainees is a violation of the right to life and a form of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. This is not only morally wrong; it is unacceptable,” she continued.
“Prominent Saudi women’s rights defenders and human rights activists, including Sakharov Prize laureate Raif Badawi, are currently being detained for peacefully exercising their basic rights, including the right to freedom of expression. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time when joint efforts are needed to defeat the virus, including in places of detention, I strongly encourage the Saudi authorities to take steps to release all human rights defenders and to apply preventive and protective health measures without discrimination.”
Very sad news on this 1st day of #Ramadan2020: Prisoner of conscience, Poet, #humanrights activist Dr Abdullah al-Hamid dies in custody in #SaudiArabia. RIP. @UNHumanRights @UN_SPExperts have called for prisoners of conscience to be released from custody in the wake of #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/i6N8oEwOM1
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) April 24, 2020
Al-Hamid was being held in a Riyadh prison when he fell ill earlier this year. He was transferred to a hospital in January, where he suffered a stroke and fell into a coma in early April, according to rights groups including Amnesty International.
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation, which awarded al-Hamid the “alternative Nobel prize”, said the academic was repeatedly denied crucial medical care and “paid the ultimate price for his convictions”.
Ole von Uexkull, head of the foundation, 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 on Friday.