ALQST has learned that women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab and seven other detained Saudi women have been on hunger strike since 23 March 2023 in protest against their unjust detention and trial, and to demand their immediate and unconditional release.
Al-Shehab, a PhD student at Leeds University in the United Kingdom, was recently resentenced to 27 years in prison over her peaceful Twitter activity in support of women’s rights, as the Saudi authorities continue their relentless crackdown on free speech. The same court also convicted and sentenced to long jail terms several other women on similar charges, including Nourah al-Qahtani, Sukaynah al-Aithan, and others whose names ALQST has not yet been able to confirm.
Prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia often resort to hunger strikes, in groups or individually, to protest against ill-treatment or to demand their basic rights. During previous hunger strikes, the prison administration has often waited several days before taking any action. When they have eventually acted, it has been to threaten the prisoners with punishment if they continue their strike, and then place them in solitary confinement in dire conditions, subjecting them to invasive medical examinations and threatening to force-feed them. Phone calls, visitors and activities are also denied, in an attempt to coerce prisoners to end their hunger strikes.
ALQST’s Head of Monitoring and Advocacy Lina Alhathloul comments: "Knowing how harshly the Saudi authorities respond to hunger strikes, these women are taking an incredibly brave stand against the multiple injustices they have faced. When your only way of protesting is to risk your life by refusing to eat, one can only imagine the inhumane conditions al-Shehab and the others are having to endure in their cells. They should never have been arrested and jailed in the first place, and they must be released without delay.”
ALQST calls on the international community to intensify pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release Salma al-Shehab and all those currently detained in the kingdom for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms.