x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Saudi protest ban flouted as families call for release of relatives

Families of 'radical Islamist' prisoners dispersed by police after demonstration outside Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission in Riyadh.

RIYADH // Dozens of protesters in Riyadh yesterday called for the release or immediate trial of jailed Islamist relatives, witnesses said.

About 40 people, including five women, demonstrated outside Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission before being dispersed by police. No violence was reported.

The protesters were relatives of "radical Islamist" prisoners, some of whom are held without charge, human-rights activists said.

Riyadh warned in October that it would deal "firmly" with demonstrations, which are banned in the kingdom, after several people demonstrating were arrested in September outside a prison north of the capital.

Amnesty International, the human-rights group, had slammed the warning and urged the authorities to "withdraw their threat".

The protesters in September held banners with slogans that read "Release innocent detainees" and "Release Heila Al Qsayer", the first woman to be arrested in the kingdom for involvement in Al Qaeda-linked violence. Al Qsayer was sentenced last year to 15 years in jail, to be followed by a 15-year travel ban.

A wave of Al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2006 prompted the authorities to launch an operation against the militant group.

An independent Saudi rights organisation says there are some 30,000 political prisoners in the kingdom, a charge Riyadh denies, saying there are none.