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ANHRI condemns ongoing stifling of freedom of expression by authorities

(ANHRI/IFEX) - Cairo, 18 October 2011 - ANHRI condemns the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression and harassment of activists by the Saudi authorities. A few days prior to the trial of the activist Waleed Aboul-Khair for his pro-democracy and human rights demands, the Saudi authorities detained Feras Baqna, Hussam Al-Nasser, and Khaled Al-Rasheed, members of the team of the "Mal3ob 3lena" show, broadcast on YouTube.

The team had posted an episode on poverty in Saudi Arabia on 10 October 2011. Staff of the show went to Jaradiya in the city of Riyadh, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Saudi Arabia. The episode showed scenes of houses and children in the neighbourhood, visibly affected by poverty. It also highlighted that while 11 Saudi billionaires occupy advanced positions among the world's rich according to Forbes, 20 percent of the Saudi population lives in poverty. In the span of five days, the video had over 500 000 views. The team of the show was summoned for investigation to a police station where they are being detained. They have not been released or brought to trial.

It is worth noting that a new hearing should be fixed for the case of the rights activist Walid Aboul-Khair whose trial started on 11 September. By the end of the first hearing, the judge refused to inform Aboul-Khair of the date of the next hearing. However, the second hearing is expected to take place in the next few days. Among Aboul-Khair's charges are "offending the judiciary system and its employees", "communicating with foreign entities", and "turning public opinion against the public order of the country", all of which are fabricated charges related to his opinions in support of reform.

Saudi Authorities also detained Khaled Al-Johani on 11 March for his remarks to the BBC, as well as the activist Mohammed Al-Wadaani, a few days prior to the demonstrations of "The revolution of Hunain", for posting a video on YouTube in which he calls the citizens to participate in the protests of 11 March. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

"Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of countries that are hostile to the Internet for years. Its authorities still believe that they can gag activists and media practitioners through policing. They have not learned from their neighbours, whose experience proves that the Internet is like the air; it is impossible to control. The use of policing tactics is of no use here, for every activist being detained or stalked for his opinions leaves a larger number of activists behind him. In turn, they will not accept the repression of their freedom of expression by the authorities. Therefore, the Saudi authorities have to implement genuine political reform, instead of stalking and harassing activists, in contravening laws and fundamental freedoms," said ANHRI.

"The reasons for detaining Mal3ob 3alena's team are politicized. Any other justifications that the authorities may draw are unacceptable. In addition to that, the charges against Aboul-Khair are falsified and politically driven by the Saudi government, which aims at restricting freedom of expression and intimidating pro-democracy citizens within the kingdom," added ANHRI.

ANHRI condemns the silence of the Arab and international community on these violations, and calls both for rapid measures pressuring the Saudi authorities to respect and protect the rights of the citizens, the release of "Mal3ob 3lena"'s team and all those who were arbitrarily detained within the kingdom, and to cease the politicized trial of Aboul-Khair. ANHRI also demands all those concerned about human rights to highlight the severe repression taking place against Saudi citizens.

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