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Saudi Arabia jails two human rights activists for "sedition"


A Saudi court on Saturday dissolved a human rights group and handed down heavy jail terms to two of its members for offenses that included sedition and giving inaccurate information to foreign media.

Mohammed Fahd al-Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad are founding members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, known as ACPRA, that documents human rights abuses and has called for a constitutional monarchy and elections.

Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years. Hamad was told he must complete the remaining six years of a previous jail term for his political activities, serve an additional five years and comply with an 11-year travel ban when he leaves jail. They have 30 days to appeal.

The judge at the criminal court in Riyadh, in delivering his verdict ordered "the dissolution of the Saudi Association of Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), for failing to obtain authorization, and the seizure of its assets.”

Qahtani and Hamad reacted calmly to the verdict, saying they planned to continue their "peaceful struggle."

Riyadh, Washington's main Gulf ally, does not allow protests, political parties and trade unions. Most power is wielded by top members of the ruling family and senior clerics of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.

Last year, ACPRA issued a statement demanding that King Abdullah fire his heir and interior minister, Crown Prince Nayef, who they held responsible for rights abuses. Nayef died shortly afterwards.

Unlike in most previous cases, the trial was opened to the press and public, in what Saudi activists described as a step forward for rights even as they decried the verdict.

Supporters of the two men shouted out that the trial was politically motivated after the judge handed down the sentences, and a line of security officers armed with truncheons cleared the courtroom.

On Thursday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said that activists, whom he did not name, had tried to stir up protests in the world's top oil exporting country by spreading "false information" on social media.

ACPRA claims to have created a file listing "hundreds of human rights violations over the past two years," and has helped victims seeking justice.

It says the kingdom is holding around 30,000 political prisoners.

(Reuters, AFP)

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