x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Saudi Arabia sentences two activists to at least a decade in jail

Mohammed Fahd Al Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad are founding members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association that documents human-rights abuses and has called for a constitutional monarchy and elections.

RIYADH // A Saudi Arabian court sentenced two prominent political and human-rights activists yesterday to at least 10 years in prison for offences that included sedition and giving inaccurate information to foreign media.

Mohammed Fahd Al Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad are founding members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, known as Acpra, that documents human-rights abuses and has called for a constitutional monarchy and elections.

Last year, Acpra issued a statement demanding that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud sack his heir and interior minister, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who they held responsible for rights abuses. Prince Nayef died shortly afterwards.

Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years. Hamad was told he must complete the remaining six years of a previous jail term for his political activities and serve an additional five years.

They will remain in detention until a judge rules on their appeal next month.

Unlike in most previous cases, the trial was open to the press and public, in what Saudi activists described as a step forward for rights even as they decried the verdict.

Saudi Arabia does not allow protests, political parties nor trade unions.

Supporters of the two men shouted out that the trial was politically motivated after the judge handed down the sentences, and a line of security officers armed with truncheons cleared the courtroom.

On Thursday, an interior ministry spokesman said that activists, whom he did not name, had tried to stir up protests by spreading "false information" on social media.

The only unrest to hit Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings was among its Shiite minority. But there have also been small demonstrations by Sunnis calling for the release of people held on security charges.

Saudi Arabia says it does not hold political prisoners and does not practise torture.

* Reuters