A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced two Shia Muslims to prison on charges of taking part in anti-government demonstrations in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province. On Friday, the court sentenced the first defendant to eight years in prison for joining protest rallies in the town of Awamiyah. He was also found guilty of having “anti-kingdom and anti-rulers pictures on his mobile phone... and of knowing dissidents in Qatif and covering up their activities.” The other man was sentenced to nine years in prison for participating in "most demonstrations" against the government in the town of Qatif.
He was also found guilty of “surfing dissident nternet websites, and posting statements inciting opposition to the rulers... as well as calling for the release of prisoners.”Last month, a Saudi Arabian court gave human rights activist Abdul-Karim al-Khader an eight-year sentence for alleged sedition. The court also imposed a 10-year travel ban on him after serving the prison term. 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 40,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, many of them being held without trial or charges. 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. MAM/MHB