On August 8, 2005, newly crowned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal pardon to Ali al-Domaini and his two co-defendants and ordered their immediate release from prison. Reportedly, al-Domaini has no passport, which prevents him from traveling outside the country. In addition, the Saudi government has denied al-Domaini the right to work.
PEN considers the continued harassment of al-Domaini to be in direct conflict with the ideas of freedom of expression outlined in Article 19 of the International Covenant and Civil and Political Rights and is calling for the return of al-Domaini’s passport and the restoration of his right to work.
Ali al-Domaini is a poet and writer whose publications include three collections of poetry and one novel. As a political activist, he has campaigned for a move to constitutional monarchy and democracy in Saudi Arabia.
In March 2004, al-Domaini was detained along with 11 other leading Saudi intellectuals for criticizing the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and for planning to set up their own human rights organization. The NCHR, the kingdom’s first human rights watchdog, was approved in early March by the Saudi government. However, many liberal and opposition figures wanted to see speedier and more radical change than that being offered by the government. A Ministry of the Interior official reportedly announced that the detainees were suspected of issuing “statements which do not serve the unity of the country and the cohesion of society… based on Islamic religion.”
Eight of the other detainees were subsequently released, but al-Domaini is thought to be among those charged after refusing to sign a document renouncing their political activism. Al-Domaini is accused by the authorities of threatening national unity, doubting the independence of the Saudi judiciary, organizing meetings and justifying violence, among other charges. His trial reportedly started on August 9, 2004 at an Islamic court in Riyadh. This was thought to be the first public political trial in Saudi history. The trial was initially adjourned in October 2004, when all three defendants refused to answer questions in a closed hearing. The trial resumed the following year and on May 15, 2005 al-Domaini was sentenced to nine years in prison for “disseminating news.” His co-defendants, Matrook Bin Hayes Al Faleh and Abdulla Bin Hamid Al Hamid were sentenced to six and seven years respectively. In addition to their sentences all three were required to sign a document promising to halt any behavior that would “prejudice the general good of the public and the country” and to halt any activity that would “be detrimental to the unity of the country and its security.”