Saudi court jails two activists for 10 years

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(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

A Saudi Arabian court sentenced two prominent political and human rights activists on Saturday to at least 10 years in prison for offences 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.

Riyadh, Washington's top 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 sack his heir and interior minister, Crown Prince Nayef, who they held responsible for rights abuses. Nayef died shortly afterwards.

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 and serve an additional five years.

They will remain in detention until a judge rules on their appeal next month.

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.

The only unrest to hit Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring wave of popular uprisings was among its Shi'ite Muslim minority. But there have also been small demonstrations by Sunni Muslims calling for the release of people held on security charges.

Saudi Arabia says it does not hold political prisoners and does not practice torture.

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