A number of dissident Saudi prisoners have begun an open-ended hunger strike in protest at their mistreatment by prison authorities as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against rights campaigners and intellectuals widens in the conservative kingdom.
The rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which is an independent non-governmental organization seeking to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page on Monday that the hunger strikers were calling for the release of all dissidents and pro-democracy activists, as well as all prisoners who had been arbitrarily imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Torture and various forms of ill-treatment have been routinely and widely reported over the past years in Saudi prisons and detention centers.
The Prisoners of Conscience later announced that renowned activists Abdullah al-Hamid, Abdulrahman al-Hamid – a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) -- Abdulkareem al-Khodor, Fawzan al-Harbi and Mohammad Fahed al-Qahatani had joined the hunger strike.
Saudi Arabia has lately stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.
In the most recent instance of persecution of dissidents by the Saudi regime, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist known for his critical writing on the Riyadh regime, was killed on October 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body was reportedly dismembered and has not yet been found.
Saudi officials have also intensified security measures in the Shia-populated and oil-rich Eastern Province.
Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.
The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime, with security forces increasing security measures across the province.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.
In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the policies of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.
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