Saudi Arabia: Call for release of protestors as report of woman demonstrator subjected to beating

Amnesty International today called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release people being detained for taking part in recent peaceful protest demonstrations as the organisation voiced its concerns for one of three Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights arrested during the demonstrations.

Amnesty International said:

'The Saudi Arabian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all people held solely for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.'

Saudi Arabian authorities arrested over 250 people during a protest demonstration held in al-U'laya district in Riyadh on 14 October 2003. This called for political reform and the release of political prisoners. In contravention of international standards, anti-government demonstrations are not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

The protest took place while a human rights conference organised by the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent was taking place in Riyadh. Contrary to what was announced by the Saudi Arabian authorities then, Amnesty International was not invited to attend the conference.

Um Sa'ud, one of three Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights arrested with the group and held in al-Malaz prison in Riyadh, was reportedly beaten and ill-treated during her arrest by security forces. She is said to have carried the picture of her son, Sa'ud al-Mutayri, who is believed to have died in al-Ha'ir prison during a fire which occurred in the prison on 15 September 2003. Um Sa'ud was apparently calling for the return of his body to the family. Amnesty International fears that Um Sa'ud and other detainees may be at risk of torture and ill-treatment in detention.

The Ministry of Interior announced that the total number of those arrested following the 14 October demonstration was 271. It added that 188 were released, but 83, including Um Sa'ud and two other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, are being interrogated and would be referred for trial.

Further protest demonstrations took place on 23 October 2003, in various cities including Jeddah, Dammam and Ha'il. Some of the protestors are said to have been injured during arrests. No violent activities are reported to have been carried out by the protestors.

In Saudi Arabia critics of the state are often at risk of indefinite detention without charge or trial. They are often ill-treated or tortured. Detainees do not have the right to formal representation by a lawyer and in many cases detainees and their families are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them.

Saudi authorities announced earlier this week that those who took part in the recent protests would be punished to prevent similar demonstrations in the future. Due to the secrecy of the Saudi Arabian justice system, trials are often held behind closed doors. In the rare instances when individuals are charged and brought to trial, the proceedings invariably fail to meet the most elementary standards of fairness.

Amnesty International said:

'The Saudi Arabian government must ensure that any detainee charged with a recognisably criminal offence is given a prompt and fair trial in accordance with international human rights standards.

'Furthermore, detainees must be protected from torture and given regular access to families, lawyers and medical attention if necessary.'

Amnesty International has repeatedly requested permission from the Saudi Arabian authorities to visit the country. This has been consistently ignored.

Background

In 2002 gross human rights violations occurred in Saudi Arabia, exacerbated by the government policy of 'combating terrorism' in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA.

Hundreds of suspected religious activists and critics of the state were arrested, and the legal status of most of those held from previous years remained shrouded in secrecy. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights continued to suffer severe discrimination. Torture and ill-treatment remained rife. At least 48 people were executed.

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