Recently, a popular Imam and preacher at Medina’s Prophet Mosque, Ahmed al-Amari, has died while in prison. In an Al-Jazeera article published on January 21st, activists had argued al-Amari’s death was the result of poor conditions in the prison. Al-Amari’s son Abudllah had taken to Twitter to confirm his father’s death. Ahmed al-Amari was arrested this past August following a raid at his home, which then led to his solitary confinement. Both Amari and other scholars’ arrests were made due to their purported connection with Safar al-Hawali, a prominent religious scholar who had been arrested in July after publishing a work critical of the Saudi royal family.
According to Al-Jazeera, a number of social media outlets in the region had blamed al-Amari’s death on “medical negligence.” However, Yahya Assiri of rights group ASQT had cited al-Amari was taken from solitary confinement, “to King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah on January 2 after a brain hemorrhage.” Because of this, Assiri believes that al-Amari’s death is rather a case of murder under the guise of medical negligence. Additionally, Prisoners of Conscience, a popular activist group on social media in Saudi Arabia that document arrests of preachers, had blamed Saudi officials “intentionally neglecting” the imam, which, “led to his death.” Amidst this outrage, Saudi officials are yet to respond.
A 2005 PBS Media Report put it best when they said, “Americans tend to think of dangers in journalism in terms of war correspondents…but for many journalists around the world, the dangers of the job are at home, where the greatest threat comes from their own government.” It is because of not only journalists but critics, dissidents, and activists, that that pithy saying still rings true: “the truth will always prevail.” When we look back on history’s examples of wrongful deaths at the hands of a silencing government, we realize the true power we wield through today’s Internet and social media. It is because of technology that groups are able to quickly mobilize and document the travesties of deaths such as al-Amaris as soon as they arise. However, technology is only half the antidote. At the end of the day, exposure can only do so much; it falls on states to close the gap by shaming, sanctioning, and pressuring states guilty of such abuses.
According to a Reuters article, Ahmed al-Amari had also served as dean in the Islam University of Medina. His death comes at a time when, despite recent economic reforms, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has seen a drastic crackdown on those against the regime, as seen in the arrests and torture of female activists, liberal scholars, and Islamist activists. To this day, the state maintains an absolute monarchy, where any dissent and speech critical of the royal family is prohibited. The country further denies any allegations of political prisoners and torture. Conversely, state officials have taken action against activists to ensure stability within the state. This death also comes in the wake of journalist Jamal Kashoggi’s murder. Khashoggi had been a longtime critic of the royal family, and his death in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul this past October further shed light on the treatment of activists in the area.
With the deaths of al-Amari and Khashoggi, more attention is being directed towards the restrictive environment within Saudi Arabia, as well as the violent actions taken towards squashing dissidence. With this growing attention, it still falls upon the global community to provide groups and critics with the same safety, security, and support that their own governments fail to offer. With this, one can only hope that those in the state will experience both stability and freedom in the coming years.