Saudi activist still in jail after serving sentence over Gaza protest
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Saudi activist still in jail after serving sentence over Gaza protest

Khalid al-‘Umair’s 8-year sentence for Riyadh rally against Israel’s battle with Hamas in 2008-9 should have ended on October 5

File: Then-Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, right, attends a ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to discuss aid to the Gaza Strip on August 12, 2014 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AFP/STR)
File: Then-Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, right, attends a ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to discuss aid to the Gaza Strip on August 12, 2014 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AFP/STR)

Saudi Arabia continues to hold in a prison an activist who already completed his sentence for protesting the 2008-9 war in Gaza.

According to Human Rights Watch, Khalid al-‘Umair was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for protesting against the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead. Al-‘Umair was arrested on January 1, 2009, along with 14 other Saudis and Palestinians residing in Saudi Arabia, as they were beginning a protest in Riyadh against the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

There is a blanket ban on public protest in Saudi Arabia, and dozens of people have been arrested since 2011 for protest-related offenses, Human Rights Watch said. More than 25 have been sentenced to death.

Al-‘Umair was convicted on May 15, 2011, of “breaking obedience with the ruler” and “embarking on a protest.” He was given a prison sentence of three years for these charges, plus an additional five years for violating Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime law, as he had organized the protest online. His eight-year sentence began on the day of his arrest in 2009, and was completed on October 5, 2016, yet he remains imprisoned (his sentence was eight years according to the Islamic calendar, which is used officially in Saudi Arabia; the Islamic year is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar ).

Although Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and officially follows its brethren Arab states in condemning Israel, there have been many reports in recent years of a supposed warming of secret ties between the desert kingdom and the Jewish state.

Former Saudi general Dr. Anwar Eshki (center, in striped tie) and other members of his delegation, meet with Israeli Knesset members and others during a visit to Israel on July 22, 2016. (via Twitter)
Former Saudi general Dr. Anwar Eshki (center, in striped tie) and other members of his delegation, meet with Israeli Knesset members and others during a visit to Israel on July 22, 2016. (via Twitter)

There have been numerous meetings between former Saudi and Israeli officials in recent years, although it was always stressed that they were attending those meetings in a private capacity, not as representatives of Saudi Arabia. In one of the most high-profile meetings, a delegation led by former Saudi general Dr. Anwar Eshki reportedly met in Jerusalem with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and held a meeting north of Jerusalem near Ramallah with several Knesset members from the opposition.

Saudi Arabia is also the driving force behind the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 proposal that offers Arab recognition of Israel if Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, including in the Golan Heights, find a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and accept the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with its capital in East Jerusalem.

In May of this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the Arab Peace Initiative contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.” However, he stressed that the proposal needs to take into account “the dramatic changes in our region since 2002,” but that he agreed with its underlying “goal of two states for two peoples.”

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