Saudi Activists Launch Online Hunger Strike via Facebook

Forwarded By:
Yuel Bhatti (United Religions Initiative Pakistan)

Today 70 Saudi activists launched a two-day hunger strike via Facebook to protest the detention of 11 human rights activists who have been held in Saudi Arabia for months – some for almost two years – without charge. Operating under oppressive restraints of freedom of expression and assembly, the activists’ defense team and supporters have harnessed the power of online tools to amplify their voices and calls for justice.

Calling for the release – or fair and public trails – of detainees is incredibly restrictive under the absolute monarch. In July 2007, the Mabahith, Saudi secret police, arrested five women who were peacefully demonstrating for the release or trial of their relatives detained for over two years without trial. Operating under oppressive restraints of freedom of expression and assembly, the activists’ defense team and supporters have harnessed the power of online tools to amplify their voices and calls for justice.

Under Saudi law, one can be detained for up to six months (and up to 60 days in solitary confinement) without a formal sentencing or trial. Once in custody, detainees are “commonly the victims of systematic and multiple violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest and torture and ill-treatment during interrogation,” according to Human Rights Watch.

“We are trying to introduce a culture of protest where there is none. Without the Internet, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Mr. al-Qahtani, an organizer of the hunger strike in an interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail.

A combination of few freedoms to assemble, express or associate oneself publicly, reasonably high internet connectivity, and a 60% population under the age of 30 has made it possible for this unprecedented event to occur online. Word is quickly spreading in online chat rooms, social networks and the blogosphere.

World media is reporting on this unprecendented act of civil disobedience. Watch an exclusive video interview with Saudi journalist Ebtihal Mubarak about the hunger strike at SaudiHungerStrike.

WITNESS’ online channel for human rights video, the Hub, was fortunate enough to attain the only video interview on this subject, due to its strict adherence to safety and security issues for participants. Read more about it on the Hub blog: hub.witness.org

Visit the: Facebook Protest Page

Listen to an audio interview with one of the people participating in the protest: hub.witness.org

Though this is not the first human rights-related campaign from the region on Facebook (see WIRED’s “Cairo Activists Use Facebook to Rattle Regime”), it is notable because it’s the first one of its kind in Saudi Arabia to get around repressive laws by harnessing power and the ubiquity of the internet to gain attention and hopefully change policy.

I hope you’ll share this info with your online colleagues who may have more room to cover this story online or continue to look to WITNESS and the Hub as a source of stories and information about the challenges and struggles of people all over the world and ways in which they are confronting them face.

Source:
Ferhan Mazher
Chairman, Rays Of Development Organization, Sargodha Pakistan

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2 Comments

  1. Explore your voice for humanrights

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  1. » Saudi Activists Launch Online Hunger Strike via Facebook

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