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Saudi rulers refuse to free inmate after jail term up

Khalid al-Umair

Human Rights Watch has slammed Saudi Arabia for keeping an activist in prison despite completing his eight-year sentence for protesting the Israeli war on Gaza.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, urged Saudi authorities on Thursday to "immediately" release Khalid al-Umair whose sentence expired on October 5.  

“Saudi Arabia’s inexplicable move to hold Khalid al-Umair, even though he completed his unjust sentence, points up just how arbitrary the country’s criminal justice system is,” she said in Beirut.

Umair was among a group of people arrested in January 2009 as they tried to start a protest against the Israeli bombing of the besieged Gaza Strip. 

The New York-based watchdog said no one knows why Saudi authorities continue to imprison him. Umair, it said, began a hunger strike a month ago to protest his continued imprisonment.

The rights group said it has documented other cases of inmates in Saudi Arabia who were kept imprisoned for months or years beyond the expiration of their sentences.

"Extending detention following completion of a judicial sentence is arbitrary, and violates both Saudi law and international human rights standards," Human Rights Watch stated.

Despite huge criticism from international human rights groups, Saudi Arabia was recently re-elected to a new three-year term on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

A court in Riyadh sentenced a Saudi national to 15 years in prison for sympathizing with the late Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who was executed by the regime in January, local media reported on Thursday.

Al-Riyadh newspaper said the man, whose name was not revealed, received the hefty sentence for taking part in anti-government rallies and chanting anti-state slogans and sympathizing with the cleric. 

The prominent Shia cleric, along with three other members of Saudi Arabia's minority Shia community, were among 47 persons executed on a single day in January.

The mass execution was met with widespread protests in several Muslim countries and public outcry in the West.

Sheikh Nimr's oil-rich hometown of Awamiyah has been the scene of numerous anti-government peaceful rallies by protesters objecting to widespread inequality and discrimination in the kingdom.

Rights groups say peaceful activists in Saudi Arabia are subject to hefty prison sentences, travel bans and other punitive measures.

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