Posted on September 2020

MBS’ September Purge 3 years on – Torture, Solitary Confinement and Silence

Three years ago this month, Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman – once a great hope for reform – began his September purge. 68 journalists, campaigners, academics, and clerics were arrested – 49 in the week of the 11th alone.

Three years on, they are almost all still in prison, many have been tortured and confined to abusive solitary confinement, four face the death penalty, and 13 have not been able to contact their family since the day of their arrest. At the end of that week, Jamal Kashoggi argued against the arrests in the Washington Post – he was murdered just over a year later.

“I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”

Today, the human rights charity Grant Liberty is renewing calls for their release, detailing the conditions of those still held by the Saudi regime, and calling on the rest of the G20 to raise their confinement with the Saudi regime and insist on their release as the minimum price of their attendance at November’s summit. The call comes just days after news that women’s rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul has been forced into hunger strike in a desperate bid to see her family.

Of the 68 arrested in September 2017:

  • 63 are still in prison, 15 held in the notorious Al Ha’ir prison, just 3 have been released permanently, 2 are on temporary release
  • 63 arbitrary detentions (Arrested and held without stated cause for 180 days, against Saudi Arabian Criminal Procedure Article 114)
  • 7 enforced disappearances (Arrest without informing a family member or legal counsel of arrest and place of detention, against Saudi Arabian Criminal Procedure Law article 36)
  • 5 are known to have been tortured
  • 4 denied access to urgent health care (Diabetes, Heart Disease, Back pain)
  • 13 have had no contact with family since their arrest
  • 18 denied access to a lawyer (contrary to article 4)
  • 13 have been held in prolonged solitary confinement (More than legal limit of 15 days – some prisoners are held in solitary confinement permanently)
  • 4 cases in which the public prosecution have asked for the death penalty

The victims of the September Purge (detailed in full in the spreadsheet attached) are clerics, preachers, academics, judges, journalists and bloggers, as well as human rights activists, a nurse, a poet, and government officials. The spreadsheet attached provides full details of the occupations, conditions and treatment of those arrested.

These include the following (more extensive case studies are detailed later in the release):

  • Issa al-Hamid Founding member of ACPRA Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association
  • Essam al-Zamel– Economist, columnist and blogger, friend of Jamal Kashoggi
  • Ali al Omari– Media personality and cleric, tortured and facing the death penalty
  • Salman al-Odah– High profile reforming Cleric, tortured and facing death penalty
  • Fatima Al-Nassif– Nurse and preacher

Publishing the analysis, Grant Liberty Spokesperson Lucy Rae said,

“Three years on from Mohammed Bin Salman’s September Purge, the activists, campaigners, scholars and journalists he has arrested have been tortured, held in solitary confinement and kept from seeing their families. Today, more of these victims face the death penalty than have been permanently released. 

“While governments of the world allow the Saudi regime to bask in the limelight of the G20 presidency, these prisoners of conscience are left to rot in jail on trumped up or non-existent charges. 

“If human rights mean anything to the British government and the rest of the G20, they must demand their release ahead of November’s G20 in Riyadh or boycott the summit.”  


The Riyadh G20 summit should not go ahead while the barbaric treatment of Loujain al-Hathloul, Issa al-Hamid and hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia continues. Britain, the EU, and other member states that claim to value human rights should insist on their release before they even think about setting foot in Riyadh in November.

In the last week alone Grant Liberty has heard disturbing reports from the families of two prisoners of conscience held in Saudi Arabia of the beatings, solitary confinement and enforced disappearance that their family members are enduring – right now.

We campaign for more than 200 prisoners of conscience – humanitarians like Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, human rights activists, journalists, academics, clerics and even nurses who have been locked up for the crime of wanting a better world – and the list is growing all the time.

The international community must end its complicity in these crimes. Countries like the UK, France, Germany, Canada and Australia consistently talk about their commitment to human rights. But talk is cheap – here they have an opportunity to create meaningful change.

If enough members of the G20 demand the release of prisoners of conscience as a condition of attending the G20 summit in Riyadh, with eyes of the world upon it, the Saudi regime can be embarrassed into doing the right thing. Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and the other world leaders set to attend the summit have a once in a generation chance to force change and free prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia.

Grant Liberty will be campaigning tirelessly over the coming months on behalf of the hundreds of decent people who have committed no crime but are held in Saudi prisons under outrageous and illegal conditions – often under torture and without charge – at the whim of the Saudi regime. The other leaders of the G20 should ask themselves a simple question – do they support human rights or not? If they really do, they must boycott the summit until Loujain and the hundreds like her are released.

In the coming weeks Grant Liberty will be:

Writing to the leaders of the G20 calling on them to insist on the release of Loujain and other prisoners.

  • Launching a petition demanding G20 leaders insist on the release of prisoners of conscience before they set foot in Riyadh for the November summit
  • Publishing our first annual Liberty Denied report – detailing the full extent of the brutality and scale of the treatment of prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia
  • Working with families and activists to raise the profile of prisoners held in Saudi prisons to shame G20 leaders into taking the action their supposed principles demand.


  • Grant Liberty is a London based charity which aims at promoting human rights, justice and freedom in Saudi Arabia. Our main focus is advancing the plight of prisoners of conscience in the country. While our ultimate goal is fostering an environment where free speech and political activity are respected, we want to ensure the immediate release of all the prisoners of conscience in the Saudi prisons.
  • The spreadsheet attached details the latest information we hold on prisoners of conscience arrested in September 2017. Our database is supported and corroborated by similar lists held by organisations such as ALQSTand Human Rights Watch
  • The next G20 summit is scheduled to be held in Riyadh on November 21/22 2020.

Prisoner Profiles

Issa al-Hamid – Human Rights Activist, founder of ACPRA

Arrested: 16/9/17, Held: Onazya Prison

Founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA). Al-Hamid is one of three brothers who have all been convicted and sentenced to prison on similarly vague charges. Dr Abdullah al-Hamid and Dr Abdulrahman al-Hamid were also founding members of ACPRA and have also been detained for their peaceful human rights activities. Founding member of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (Hasm), detained in September 2017, serving a 9-year prison sentence – which on appeal has been lengthened to eleven years, followed by an eleven year travel ban.

Essam al-Zamel – economist, columnist and blogger, friend of Jamal Kashoggi

Arrested: 12/10/17, Held: Al-Ha’ir Prison, Riyadh

Alongside his activism, al-Zamel was also a successful entrepreneur, awarded “Young Entrepreneur of The Year” by Prince Salman Young Entrepreneur Award in 2009. He was a member of the Executive Committee of Young Businessmen and the Chamber of Commerce, member of the Board of Directors and founding partner for the separation of the Eastern Region in the “Aqal” company. Al-Zamel was a respected economic analyst who expressed his support for human rights, the Arab Spring and calls for reform in Saudi Arabia. He criticised Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s abortive plan to sell off the state oil company, Saudi Aramco. In a video posted on social media, Al-Zamel challenged MBS’s claim that Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi, was worth 2-3 million dollars. Al-Zamel then tweeted, “The oil is owned by the people. A decision like this should not happen without the consent of the people.” Although he deleted the critical tweets immediately, he was detained shortly after.

Ali al Omari – Media personality and cleric, tortured and facing the death penalty 

Arrested: 9/9/17, Held: Dhahban Central Prison, Jeddah

He is one of the most popular Islamic media personalities in the Arab world, hosting a range of programs before starting his own Youth Awareness channel. He grew up in Syria where his father worked for the Saudi embassy. He spoke favourably about the Arab Spring and how the simple people took control of their lives once again. He is an Imam and writer, detained in September 2017, pending trial, prosecutors demanded his execution for his alleged membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi regime has produced no proof of this.

Salman al-Odah Reforming Cleric, tortured and facing the death penalty

Arrested: 10/9/17, Held: Dhahban Central Prison, Jeddah

An iconic religious reformer and one of Saudi Arabia’s leading proponents of political reform and human rights. Security officers made clear that the reason for his arrest was a Twitter post in which he had welcomed a phone conversation between the Emir of Qatar and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia as a step towards resolving the current Gulf crisis. In it, he said: “Praise the Lord… O God, soften their hearts toward each other for the good of their peoples.”

Fatima Al-Nassif – Nurse and preacher 

Arrested: 5/9/2017 Held: Al-Mabaheth

Fatima was assaulted and arrested by masked officers while she was in the car with her two daughters, Shahad and Batoul. Since her arrest no details have emerged of the charges she faces nor her condition or whereabouts. She is an activist and preacher known for using SnapChat videos and excessive use of emojis and her travels around the world. Two of her brothers (Mustafa and Majid) have previously been arrested by the Saudi regime – Mustafa continues to await trial following his arrest in 2009.

In July 2019, Fatima’s then 15 year old daughter wrote an open letter to the Saudi Judiciary begging for her mother’s release, after Fatima’s enforced ten day disappearance.

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G20 leaders urged to act over Saudi detentions as summit approaches