Saudi Regime Continues to Intimidate Intellectuals
By: Mariam Abdallah
Published Monday, February 27, 2012
“We are facing a new form of terrorism.” This statement was made by a Saudi interior ministry official at a time when the authorities started a campaign to arrest a number of intellectuals, writers and activists, particularly in the city of Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia.
There is no end in sight to the arrest campaign in Qatif, which has been home to a protest movement for months. On Wednesday, poet and photographer Habib Ali al-Maatiq joined those who have been detained as a group of Saudi security forces arrested him at his workplace.
Al-Maatiq has been held incommunicado as even his place of detention is unknown. However, Saudi websites have been circulating reports claiming that the reason behind his arrest was his webmaster position at al-Fajr Cultural Network.
The website, which focuses on local cultural and social news, was shut down on Wednesday following the arrest of al-Maatiq. Al-Fajr network had previously published news and photos from protests in Qatif. It is considered the mouthpiece of Sheikh Abdel Karim al-Habil, who is vocal against the authorities’ oppressive practices in his religious sermons.
Al-Maatiq is a renowned poet in the region and is considered to be the kingdom’s first photo poet after he combined poetry with the art of photography. This artistic experiment was presented as part of an exhibition in the Eastern Province through his poetry collection titled “Hazmat Wajd” – A Conscience Bouquet (2008), which received much acclaim in a number of different Arab countries.
And so continues the systematic campaign led by the Saudi regime to limit political and cultural freedoms and pose restrictions on activists and intellectuals who raised their voice against oppression in Qatif. The irrational approach by the Saudi regime in dealing with dissenting intellectuals was met with further protests.
Many pages were created on social media websites to demand the release of activists. Moreover, intellectuals have intensified their campaigns with local and international rights organizations to call for the immediate release of detainees.
Al-Maatiq’s arrest comes as just another episode in a series of arrests that included writers Hussein al-Alaq and Hussein Youssef, who were released later. Meanwhile, activist Fadhel al-Manasif and writer Natheer al-Majid remain detained.
In a phone interview with Al-Akhbar, Saudi rights activist Waleed Sulais commented on the arrest of intellectuals by saying: “Part of their detention is a detention of the freedom of speech and expression in the kingdom. There have been many arrests following the killings that claimed the lives of many of our youth. This will only result in an increase in popular tension.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.