Families of Saudi detainees marked the Third Detainees Day to protest the arbitrary detention of their loved ones, who have been behind bars for years without access to a fair trial. The day, on July 7, was called for by anonymous advocacy groups @e3teqal [arrest] and @almonaseron [the supporters].
Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world and has a devastating human rights record which includes arbitrarily detaining over 30,000 people.
Across the kingdom, families of detainees hung pictures and signs demanding the release of their relatives. They made videos and distributed flyers to publicize the cause. Unlike the first and second detainees day, this time bridges were guarded by security forces to make sure no one hangs signs on them. Also, walls that had any sort of expressions demanding the release of the prisoners were painted right away.
The family that got the most attention was that of Abdullah Al-Ayaf. Al-Ayaf has been in jail for six years now. He was tried and acquitted, but he still remains in jail. His picture was hung outside their home in Qassim.
The house was soon surrounded by police and Mabahith (secret police) cars. A member of the Mabahith talked to Maha Al-Dhuhaian – Al-Ayaf's wife – during the day and cursed her. Later, a police officer came to talk to her demanding the photograph be taken down. She told him about the Mabahith member.
“I don't think any member of the security forces would say those things,” the officer replies. “That sign is the only reason we're here in the first place, it's better you take it down,” he adds.
“The sign means I want my husband back. Don't send me your thugs. The sign is staying,” she tells him.
The conversation was being videotaped by Yasser, Al-Dhuhaian and Al-Ayaf's son. The officer asks him if he is shooting and Yasser answers “Yes, I am.” The officer makes an immediate phone call while the mother tells him “are you calling about my son? Don't. I told him to shoot this.”
As soon as the video was uploaded to YouTube, it went viral. Saudi tweeps started a hashtag demanding that Mabahith member be held accountable for slander.
At dawn, police officers threatened Saleh,Yasser's brother, saying they would crash his cars if he doesn't give them Yasser's ID.
Maha Al-Dhuhaian tweeted:
@cczz1000: الناس في صلاة الفجر تذكر الله ورجال الشرطة عند بابنا يطالبون تسليم ابنائي لهم والا سيعدم سيارتنا ..اي امن يتحدثون عنه حسبي الله وكفى
People are performing dawn prayers while police are at my door demanding I hand in my sons or they will crash our car. What security are they talking about?
The next day, July 8, police came to surround the house again demanding the family hands in the son who shot the video. At the same time, an employee from the ministry of interior called the family asking them to delete the video and promising they will get what the want.
The last time I spoke to Yasser, he told me:
“My father will be released sooner or later. I'm not doing this for my father. I'm not a hero, but the path is dark. And so, if we do not burn, who else will light the way?”