Rights group slams jail term for Saudi activist

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has hit out at Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system for sentencing a prominent activist to five years in jail over his writings.

The Gulf kingdom’s Specialised Criminal Court on June 17 handed down the prison term to Mikhlif al-Shammari for “sowing discord”. Al-Shammari, who was arrested in June 2010, is said to have campaigned for improved relations with Saudi’s Shi’ite minority, who often complain of discrimination in the Sunni Muslim majority country.

Al-Shamari reportedly told HRW that his articles had criticised “corruption, double standards and the hypocrisy of some religious figures”. He is also said to have been barred from travelling for ten years.

“Al-Shammari is the latest in a lengthening line of Saudi human rights activists hauled before the courts and branded as criminals for exercising their right to free speech,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

“King Abdullah needs to reform the criminal justice system to end these abuses unless he wants his legacy to be repression rather than reform.”

Earlier this month Saudi security forces arrested dozens of people during protests by families seeking freedom for relatives detained on security charges, activists and witnesses said.

Families of security detainees have regularly staged small protests in Riyadh and some other cities over the past two years in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations.

They accuse the government of holding their relatives without trial or failing to release them after they were found innocent or had completed their sentence.

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