A Saudi writer recently released from prison has died shortly after contracting COVID-19.
Saleh Al-Shehi was a prominent Saudi columnist reporting on corruption in Saudi Arabia and worked under the late Jamal Khashoggi when he was editor of Al-Watan.
Al-Shehi was imprisoned in January 2018 for “insulting the royal court” after he criticised the so-called corruption drive in Saudi on the TV show Yahalla.
Al-Shehi was also critical of the kingdom’s labour and economics policy.
After his release from prison in May, Al-Shehi was put on a ventilator for three weeks before he died on 19 June.
There are over 251,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia, according to the UK-based NGO Equality Now, which supports women and girls’ rights.
Saudi prison authorities have failed to provide medical care to detainees who are ill. In April, pro-democracy leader Abdullah Al-Hamid died after being denied treatment for his heart condition.
The Saudi government has used the coronavirus as a cover to indefinitely postpone the trial date of prominent women’s rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul.
They have also denied her family visits.
Loujain’s sister has questioned whether the Saudi authorities are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to kill Loujain:
Have they started preparing her for death so they can hand her over to die in our hands to rid themselves of the responsibility of killing her as they did with Saleh Al-Shebhi when they handed him over to his family to die with them?
she asked on Twitter.
In prisons across the Middle East, coronavirus has underscored the dire conditions political detainees are kept in and highlighted the increased risk they face due to their conditions of detention.
“The spread of COVID-19 amongst the Kingdom’s jail population is worsening their plight,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s MENA consultant, told MEMO.
“Adding to concerns is the worry that Saudi prison authorities may withhold adequate medical care from inmates who become ill. Detained activists are at risk of dying as a result.”
“Saudi Arabia is obligated to uphold international human rights standards and this includes stopping the unlawful persecution and detainment of women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders. We call on the Saudi government to release these activists immediately and without conditions.”