Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saudi Arabia: human rights, reform and the rule of law

Source: The Daily Star

By Muhammad Helmy | October 24, 2007

Many Arab regimes share a questionable commitment to the principles of human rights, but the Saudi ruling establishment's commitment is even weaker than that of others in the region. To date, the Saudi government's reform initiatives have had a negligible impact on improving respect for human rights in the kingdom. On the contrary, peaceful Saudi reform activists have faced increased police brutality in recent years and continue to be denied the right to counsel and to fair trials.

In addition to serving extended prison terms, many have been barred from leaving the country. Most recently, on August 19, Saudi police re-arrested two of the country's most prominent reform activists, university professor and attorney Abdullah al-Hamid and his brother, activist Issa al-Hamid. Five women were arrested at the same time for demonstrating in favor of an expedited trial for their relatives. The arrests were made under the pretext of a legally dubious ban on peaceful demonstrations.

Since 2004, Saudi security forces have arrested hundreds of reform activists, and barred 22 from traveling, among them Abdullah al-Hamid, professor Matrouk al-Faleh, poet Ali al-Domaini, and Ibrahim al-Makitib - head of Human Rights First. Many activists, including Said bin Zuir and Abdullah al-Hamid, have also lost their jobs because of their political views. Critical journalists, such as Khalid al-Dakhil and Saad al-Suwan, have not escaped either and have sometimes been banned from writing in the Saudi press.

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