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Saudi Arabia arrests 176 demonstrators
Saudi police arrested 176 people in the Gulf Arab kingdom's central Qassim province on Friday after a protest calling for fair treatment for security prisoners.
State news agency SPA said those detained, who included 15 women, had refused to disperse from a sit-in staged outside the investigation and prosecution bureau in the town of Buraida.
It was the latest in a string of small-scale demonstrations in Qassim and the capital Riyadh in the past two years demanding better treatment of prisoners held on security grounds.
Rights groups say thousands have been detained in the name of security in Saudi Arabia, many of them imprisoned without a fair hearing or held for long periods without trial. They say some were detained merely for demanding political change.
The authorities deny holding political prisoners and say all the security detainees are suspected Islamist militants. They have said more than 5,000 people were detained last year in a crackdown on the militants and most had already been tried.
SPA quoted a police spokesman in the Qassim region as saying those detained on Friday "refused to respond to instructions and attempts by security personnel for more than 12 hours to get them to end their informal gathering".
The sit-in was "an attempt to rouse public opinion by exploiting the cases of a number of persons convicted or accused of crimes or activities of a deviant group," the spokesman said.
All protests in Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, are illegal. The government says it does not mistreat prisoners.
In September, then Interior Minister Prince Ahmad said no further protests about detainees would be tolerated.
There are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, according to the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London. Most of them were said to be arrested at the behest of the United States following the 2001 September 11 attacks in line with the dubbed “war on terrorism.”
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