While the Saudis are revelling in their team’s freak victory over Argentina in Doha, Qatar, there is an even more important story that needs recounting.
There are hundreds of political prisoners languishing in the dungeons of the medieval kingdom.
The de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) may not wish the world to know about them but they must not be forgotten.
Just as the Saudis were celebrating their victory on November 22, and not likely to be repeated, the date coincided with completion of the 10-year sentence of human rights activist Professor Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani.
Yet he has not been released.
Instead, he has been moved to another prison but his whereabouts are not known even to his family.
“Dr Mohammad al-Qahtani’s prison term has expired and he has not been released,” Adel al-Saeed, an activist with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), was quoted by Middle East Eye as saying.
Al-Qahtani is a professor of economics and a political activist.
His sin was that he was one of the founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA).
The organisation has since been disbanded.
Professor al-Qahtani and co-founder of the organization Abdullah al-Hamid were arrested in 2012.
They were handed 10- and 11-year prison sentences, respectively.
What was their crime?
They were accused of “breaking allegiance to the ruler”, “questioning the integrity of officials”, “seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder”, and “instigating international organizations against the kingdom.”
These allegations are bizarre.
Is “allegiance to the ruler” compulsory?
As for the “integrity of officials” one only need recall the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Saudi officials, on orders from MbS, not only murdered Khashoggi in cold blood but also chopped his body.
It is widely believed that the body was then dissolved in acid.
It has never been recovered.
Al-Qahtani’s family was naturally looking forward to his release after he completed his sentence.
His wife, however, alerted human rights activists more than 20 days ago that the prison administration had prevented him from communicating and transferred him to another unknown location.
In prison, al-Qahtani was being harassed by other inmates.
When he submitted a complaint to the prison authorities, al-Qahtani was transferred to an unknown location, according to ESOHR.
His fellow co-founder of ACPRA, Abdullah al-Hamid died in prison in 2020.
He had suffered a stroke two weeks earlier but was kept in detention despite being in a coma at the hospital.
The latter was detained without charge or trial in 2018 and remains behind bars.
Adel al-Saeed of ESOHR said that Saudi Arabia was not releasing political prisoners even after they had served their prison term.
While the Saudi regime has always been brutal towards those demanding basic rights, the campaign of oppression has intensified since the ascent of MbS to power.
Scores of academics, human rights activists, lawyers, preachers, economists and women’s rights activists have been arrested and languish in prison.
There is no codified law in Saudi Arabia.
The whim of the presiding judge passes for law.
Judges are notorious for pandering to MbS’ wishes.
They know that any person who has been arrested has clearly run afoul of the crown prince.
They are sentenced to harsh prison terms.
Even lawyers defending clients have been sentenced to prison for the temerity of defending the accused!
They did not kill anyone.
They simply called for peace between fellow Muslims.
The case of Sheikh Salman al-Awdah is instructive.
In September 2017, he had prayed for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
This was soon after MbS cut off relations with its smaller neighbour and imposed harsh sanctions on it.
In January 2021, MbS made up with Qatar and invited the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Saudi Arabia.
Relations have been fully restored.
MbS even attended the opening ceremony of the FIFA world cup two days ago (November 20) and was warmly received by Sheikh Hamad.
So, why is Sheikh Salman still in prison and facing the death sentence?
This is what Saudi Arabia, a society ruled by savages, is all about.