More than 100 days have passed and Prof. Matrook al-Faleh is still detained following his arrest last May. His situation remains the same: in solitary confinement and yet to be allowed to meet his lawyer. No official statement has been released on why he was arrested, but it is widely accepted that his detention is related to an article he published online on the poor conditions of Buraida General Prison where fellow activist Abdullah Al-Hamed was jailed for the past six months.
Al-Hamed was serving a sentence by a court in Qassim which found him guilty on charges related to women’s demonstrations last summer. He has completed his sentence and was released few days ago. His friends hosted a dinner to celebrate his freedom earlier this week, and I was lucky to be invited and have the honor of meeting him and other political and social activists.
It was clear that he lost some weight, but his spirits were not shaken at all. He spoke briefly and thanked those who supported him. He also said that we must not forget about other jailed activists, especially the lesser known ones, who deserve to be defended too. Being jailed unfairly for a just cause is not a bad thing, he said, and for this nation to advance, some of us has to pay the price. When I was introduced to him, he talked to me fatherly and gave me some advice. He told me that I should never work alone, and that I must let my family and friends know about my activism so they can help me if something went wrong.
One important note he made and I want to emphasize here is that we, as citizens who want to reform our country, must learn how to work together, regardless of what differences we might have. Yes, we have liberals and Islamists, and they have different views on different issues, but in the end of the day there are also things we all agree on, like the importance of justice, representation and human rights. We should not allow our disagreement over some details drag us to bitterness and enmity.
I have no doubt that Abdullah al-Hamed is one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest men. Abu Bilal, as he is known among his friends, has been actively working for the past 20 years to make this country a better place, and despite all the hardships he has gone through over the this time, including jail and travel bans, he remains determined and committed to his message. His work is absolutely an inspiration to me and many people who share his dream of a brighter future for this nation.