Friday, December 2, 2011

Saudi repression intensifies amid Arab Spring fears: Amnesty

December 1, 2011

Amnesty International condemned Saudi Arabia for conducting a campaign of repression to stave off the threat of the pro-democracy Arab Spring that has engulfed the region, a newly-published report said.

"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," the rights watchdog said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia has moved to squash any chance of the Arab Spring reaching the kingdom, launching a crackdown on protesters and reformists throughout the country, Philip Luther, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

"While the arguments used to justify this wide-ranging crackdown may be different, the abusive practices being employed by the Saudi Arabian government are worryingly similar to those which they have long used against people accused of terrorist offenses," he said.

Amnesty accused the conservative Sunni kingdom of arresting and torturing "thousands of people, many of them without charge or trial, on terrorism-related grounds."

"Torture and other ill-treatment in detention remains rife," said the London-based rights group.

Saudi Arabia also carried out a crackdown against Shia Muslims in the restive, oil-rich Eastern Province, arresting hundreds of protesters, Amnesty alleged.

Shia Muslims have been protesting in the Eastern Province in support of democratic reforms and in sympathy with similar protests in Bahrain which were crushed by a Saudi military intervention earlier in the year.

Last month, four Shia protestors were shot dead during clashes with security forces in the same region. The interior ministry said two policemen were wounded.

Amnesty said 300 people who took part in the protests were detained.

"Most have been released, often after pledging not to protest again," said the watchdog, adding that "many face travel bans."

"Elsewhere in the country, 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'."

Amnesty described as "grossly unfair" the trial of 16 men including nine prominent reformists who were sentenced to jail for up to 30 years after being found guilty on November 22 of charges including attempting to seize power.

The rights group alleged Saudi authorities had drafted a secret law that would allow them to "prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime and permit extended detention without charge or trial."

A regional heavyweight, Saudi Arabia has been leading what many have dubbed a 'counter-revolution' to the Arab Spring that has already toppled autocratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

Riyadh sent troops to neighboring Bahrain to crush mass pro-democracy protests, and has worked with fellow oil-rich Gulf states to prevent the Arab Spring from reaching the region.

Despite repressing pro-democracy protests at home, Saudi Arabia has taken a leading role in isolating Syrian President Bashar Assad over a similar crackdown on protests in Syria.

Assad's Syria is a key ally of Saudi Arabia's regional rival, Iran.

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