Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Saudi Arabia to release a rights group founder and a former judge, who was imprisoned in 2011. HRW said on Wednesday that Sulaiman al-Rashudi, who was one of 16 people arrested in 2007 and sentenced to a 15-year jail term in November 2011, should be released immediately, AFP reported.
"Saudi authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against," Rashudi, who was detained “for peacefully trying to establish a human rights organization in Jeddah," and for "breaking allegiance to the king," HRW said.Rashudi was the founder of the Saudi Association of Civil and Political Rights. HRW added that Rashudi also faced "other charges that arose entirely from his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of association." Four of those arrested along with Rashudi are facing similar charges and are still in prison. "The 11 others detained in 2007 were sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years in 2010, but were released on bail after agreeing to sign pledges that they will not engage in further activity that the authorities consider unlawful," HRW said. In April 2011, Rashudi was released on bail, but he was detained again in December 2011 after he gave a speech in the capital Riyadh, backing anti-regime demonstrations in the country. There have been numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province since February 2011, with protestors calling for political reform. Anti-government protests have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protestors in Qatif, killing five people and leaving scores more injured. Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. In October 2012, Amnesty International called on the Saudi authorities to stop using excessive force against pro-democracy protestors. “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,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said on October 16. “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,” he added. NT/MHB