New York, NY, August 8, 2005—PEN American Center hailed the release today of Ali Al-Domaini, a leading Saudi literary figure who was one of three prominent intellectuals imprisoned for criticizing the pace and reach of human rights reforms in Saudi Arabia. Al-Domaini was one of two recipients of PEN’s 2005 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. These honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression.

Ali Al-Domaini was among thirteen leading intellectuals and peaceful reform advocates who were arrested in March of 2004 for expressing dissatisfaction with the composition of a new government human rights organization and announcing their intentions to set up an independent human rights monitor. Ten of the thirteen were released after signing affidavits renouncing their political activism. In May, Al-Domaini was sentenced to 9 years in prison while two co-defendants, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh, received 7 and 6 year prison terms respectively. The three were convicted of “stirring up sedition and disobeying the ruler.”

Newly Crowned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal pardon on August 8th releasing Al-Domaini, al-Hamed, Al- Faleh, one of their lawyers and a religious scholar. They are to be released from jail shortly.

“This is a very promising development,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “But more important than the pardon itself — which after all comes in a case where no crime was committed — is whether Ali Al-Domaini and his colleagues will be allowed to enjoy freedom of assembly and freedom of speech going forward. We will of course be watching this story closely, and very much hope today’s news signals real improvements in the climate for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105