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Saudi activist who inspired rare hunger strike freed

The professor had been arrested after publishing a critical report.

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Saudi authorities have released a prominent political activist whose extended detention without charges helped spark a rare hunger strike by scores of Saudis last November.

Matrouq al-Faleh, a political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, was freed Saturday night after being jailed for eight months, according to his wife, Jamila al-Uqla.

"He's doing very well," says Mohammad al-Qahtani, one of the hunger strikers, who visited Mr. Faleh at his home. "This is his first day to see the sun in eight months."

Ms. Uqla says her husband's health is good, but declined to have him come to the phone to speak with a reporter.

Political detainees often face travel and other restrictions upon their release. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry says he had no information about what, if any, restrictions were imposed on Faleh.

He was one of 11 political detainees whose extended jailing was the focus of the unusual hunger strike by more than 70 people in early November.

Participants in the protest action declared their commitment online to fast for two days. They stayed home during the strike to not violate a government ban on unauthorized public assemblies.

Initially, they advertised their protest at humriht-civsocsa.org, and later on Facebook, where it eventually drew more than 800 mostly supportive comments.

The hunger strike passed without incident, but also without any coverage in the local press. The protest, however, drew attention from the international media.

Public protests and demonstrations are rare in the kingdom, where King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz rules by consensus, but has the final word in most matters.

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