Saudi Arabia warns that protesters will be 'firmly dealt with'

Warning coincides with veiled threat to UK over parliamentary investigation

The Saudi Arabian authorities must withdraw their threat to deal “firmly” with people taking part in demonstrations and refrain from detaining those who exercise their right to peaceful protest, Amnesty International said today.

The organisation’s call came after the country’s Interior Ministry last week issued a statement warning those taking part in demonstrations that they would face prosecution and be “firmly dealt with” by members of the security forces.

The Interior Ministry threat was followed this week by Saudi Arabia’s UK ambassador warning that Saudi Arabia would “not tolerate or accept any foreign interference in the workings” of his home country or neighbouring ones after a parliamentary committee announced its intention to investigate the UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The Interior Ministry statement also disclosed the names of ten people who have undergone, or are undergoing, judicial procedures in relation to crimes of “the deviant group”. They included the human rights activist Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady, who in April was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and a five-year travel ban for communicating with foreign bodies “to carry out activities that undermine security”.

Al-Bajady was also reportedly convicted of participating in the establishment of a human rights organisation, harming the image of the state through the media, calling on the families of detainees to protest and hold sit-ins, contesting the independence of the judiciary and having banned books in his possession. He has been held since his arrest on 21 March 2011, a day after he attended a demonstration in the capital Riyadh by families of detainees protesting that their relatives were held without charge.

Al-Bajady is a co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), an unregistered NGO which was set up in 2009 to campaign for civil and political reforms. It has also campaigned on behalf of detainees held without charge or trial and those they consider to be political prisoners.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“The Saudi authorities must end their repeated moves to stifle people’s attempts to protest against the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the country.

“The right of people to peaceful protest must be respected and the security forces must refrain from detaining or using excessive force against people who exercise it.

“Amnesty International considers Mohammed Saleh al-Bajady to be a prisoner of conscience convicted on charges that amount to the criminalisation of his rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

“He appears to have been targeted for his human rights activism and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Although protests in the kingdom are banned, they have been regularly taking place since February 2011, particularly in the Eastern Province. Hundreds of people have been arrested, though most have been subsequently released.

Since November 2011, around a dozen men have died and a number of others injured after being shot by the security forces during or in connection with protests in the Eastern Province. The Saudi Arabian authorities have stated that the deaths and injuries occurred during exchanges between the security forces and individuals who had used firearms or Molotov cocktails, but there are concerns that the security forces in at least some cases used excessive - and lethal - force against unarmed protesters.

Most recently, on 26 September, around two men were killed and a third later died from his injuries when security forces raided a house in order to arrest one of 23 men wanted for “stirring up unrest”. The wanted man was killed, along with two of his companions. Amnesty is not aware of the exact circumstances of the deaths and is calling on the authorities to order an impartial and independent investigation.

There has also been a recent increase in the number of protests taking place in other areas in support of those who detained, some without charge or trial, in the name of “security”. During the last few weeks, protests have occurred on this issue in the capital Riyadh, and the Qassim Province. On 23 September scores of people, including Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights, were surrounded by security forces and left without food or water until the following day after they had gathered in the desert around Tarfiya prison in Qassim to call for the release of relatives. Scores of men were reportedly arrested the following day and beaten at the time of arrest. Rima al-Jareesh, who had previously been arrested for participating in protests calling for her relative to be charged and tried or else released, was apparently beaten when she tried to prevent the men’s arrests.

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