COURT RULING A SETBACK FOR REFORM
On 23 July 2005, an appellate court in Riyadh upheld a May 2005 lower court ruling, which sentenced Ali al-Domaini, Dr. Matruk al-Falih and Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid to prison terms ranging between six and nine years.
The individuals had attempted to circulate a petition in March 2004 calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been ruled with an iron fist by the Saudi royal family since 1932.
The verdict did not specify which laws the defendants had violated, but found that they had "address[ed] the public and appeal[ed] to it in respect of critical issues concerning the system of rule" and engaged in "criticism of the people charged with authority in the Islamic regime" in a manner "contrary to the principle of mutual advice with the ruler " said Human Rights Watch. None of these charges is codified as a punishable offense under Saudi law.
The ruling is ironic in light of recent comments by the Saudi Foreign Minister, who publicly stated in May that Saudi Arabia would become a constitutional monarchy.
Al-Domaini, al-Falih and al-Hamid were among 12 petitioners arrested in March 2004. The three men had refused to sign a pledge to stop all future political petition activity in return for their release. Only a royal pardon can now free them.
Human Rights Watch says human rights violations, including censorship, are pervasive in Saudi Arabia. "Many basic rights are not protected under Saudi law, political parties are not allowed and freedom of expression remains extremely limited."
Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Human Rights Backgrounder on Saudi Arabia:
- WiPC: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/dev/viewArticles.asp?findID_=356
- PEN American Center: http://pen.org/page.php/prmID/847
- Press Freedom in Saudi Arabia:
- Saudi Arabia's Political Opposition:
- Secrets of the Saudi Royal Family:
(Photo of Ali al-Domaini courtesy of PEN USA West)