Rights group criticises Saudi Arabia over detentions


Saudi authorities arrested two men and five women who made a rare protest on Thursday over detention without charge in the country’s campaign against al Qaeda.
Security forces said they had found weapons at the home of one of the activists, Rima al-Juraish, who had organised the sit-in with the other women outside Buraida state security headquarters, north of the capital, over the detentions of their husbands. Acquaintances said the weapons were planted by police.


Abdullah al-Hamed, the lawyer for Juraish’s husband, Muhammad al-Hamili, one of 3,000 men the authorities say are being held in detention without charge on suspicion of links to militants, was detained with the group along with his brother.


"It’s deeply disturbing that Saudi intelligence forces feel free to arrest a lawyer for defending his client’s rights," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director.


"The security forces should be protecting people’s rights to peaceful protest, not whisking them off to jail."


The Saudi authorities have detained Hamili without charge or trial for between two and three years, the group said.


"Human Rights Watch has documented cases of detainees … without charge or trial in excess of three years, even though Saudi law stipulates that detainees must be brought to trial or released within six months of their arrest," it said.


"The government should ensure that law enforcement officers do not arrest persons for exercising their fundamental rights to peacefully demonstrate or express their opinion."


Hamed was released on bail and it was not clear if he would face trial, said one of his colleagues, who wished not to be named. Juraish was released on Sunday. The other four women were held for several hours.


Al Qaeda-linked Islamists launched a campaign to bring down the monarchy in 2003, targeting government installations, foreigners and the oil industry.
Hamed was one of three reform activists jailed in 2005 for organising a petition calling for Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and the world’s largest oil exporter, to be transformed from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional democracy.


King Abdullah pardoned the men later that year after he ascended to the throne of the vast desert kingdom, which has no political parties and bans street protests.


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