Thursday, December 1, 2011

Amnesty: new wave of repression against reformists and protesters in Saudi Arabia

 The last nine months has seen a new wave of repression in Saudi Arabia as authorities have cracked down on protesters and reformists on security grounds, according to Amnesty International. In a report, published on Wednesday 30 November, Saudi Arabia: Repression in the Name of Security, the organization says that hundreds of people have been arrested for demonstrating, while the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalize dissent as a "terrorist crime” and further strip away rights from those accused of such offences.
Thousands of people are in prison, many of them without charge or trial, on terrorism-related grounds. Torture and other ill-treatment in detention remains rife.In April 2011, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said that around 5,000 people connected to the “deviant group”, meaning al-Qa’ida, had been questioned and referred for trials.

 Demonstration in Al-Qatif (Eastern Province) against arrests 

Since February 2011, when sporadic demonstrations began – in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests – the government had carried out a crackdown in the Eastern Province. Since March 2011 over 300 people, mostly Shi'a Muslims, who took part in peaceful protests in al-Qatif, al-Ahsa and Awwamiya have been detained, either at demonstrations or shortly afterwards. Most have been released, often after pledging not to protest again. Many face travel bans.
Elsewhere in Saudi-Arabia protests have been stifled by warnings by the Interior Ministry that the authorities would “take all necessary measures” against those who tried to “disrupt order”.
Individuals who did demonstrate were swiftly arrested. Among them was 40-year-old Khaled al-Johani, the only man to demonstrate on the 11 March “Day of Rage” in Riyadh, who told journalists he was frustrated by media censorship in Saudi Arabia.Charged with supporting a protest and communicating with foreign media, he is believed to have been held in solitary confinement for two months. Nine months on he remains in detention and has not been tried.
Khaled al-Johani speaking with the BBC. He wanted to protest against the lack of democracy and openness in Saudi-Arabia. That was in March. He was arrested and disappeared. He has not been tried. 

A number of people who have spoken up in support of protests or reform have been arrested. Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim al-Amer, a Shi'a cleric, was arrested for the second time this year in August for calling for reform at a mosque. He has been charged with “inciting public opinion”.
 On 22 November 16 men, including nine prominent reformists, were given sentences by the Specialized Criminal Court ranging from five to 30 years in prison, on charges that included forming a secret organization, attempting to seize power, incitement against the King, financing terrorism, and money laundering. Amnesty International said that their trial, which began in May 2011, was grossly unfair. The defendants were blindfolded and handcuffed during the trial while their lawyer was not allowed to enter the court for the first three sessions.

In July 2011 Amnesty International published a leaked copy of a secret draft anti-terror law, which would allow the Saudi Arabian authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime and permit extended detention without charge or trial.
If the law was to be passed without being amended, terrorist crimes would include “endangering… national unity” and “harming the reputation of the state or its position”. Questioning the integrity of the King would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.
After Amnesty International published the draft law, the Saudi Arabian authorities appeared to briefly block access to the organization’s website from within the Kingdom and said that its concerns about the law were “baseless, mere supposition and without foundation”.

Human Rights Watch also denounced the arrests in the Eastern Province (here)
It also severely criticized the rather medieval juridical system in the Kingdom (here)

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