Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia sentences activist to prison, lashes

A court in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 15 sentenced political activist Omar al-Saeed to four years in prison and 300 lashes for urging the kingdom to become a constitutional monarchy. Al-Saeed is the fourth member of the pro-democracy group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to be imprisoned for criticizing the Saudi royal family. Human rights activists denounced al-Saeed's imprisonment as another attempt by Saudi Arabia to suppress dissent. Although Saudi Arabia's government has denied that it has stifled dissent, some human rights lawyers contend that the government has arrested peaceful activists who have called for democratic reforms. It is unclear if al-Saeed can appeal his conviction.

US transfers two Gitmo detainees to Saudi Arabia

The US Department of Defense announced Dec. 16 that two Guantánamo Bay detainees have been transferred to Saudi Arabia. Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood had been held since 2002, but neither had been charged with a crime. The two men were recommended for transfer in 2009 after a review by the the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. According to a statement:

Syria war portends Middle East 'balkanization'?

Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World  (and a "distinguished scholar" at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center) has an op-ed in the New York Times Sept. 28, ingenuously entitled "Imagining a Remapped Middle East"—as if nobody ever has. Wright sees a portending breakdown of Syria into smaller entities—the oft-discussed Alawite mini-state on the coast and the inevitable Kurdish enclave in the north. But Wright predicts the separatist contagion spreading from Syria to the rest of the Middle East—using some of the most clichéd names imaginable, e.g. Iraq breaking into "Sunnistan" and "Shiitestan." (Note to "distinguished scholar" Wright: the "stan" suffix is of Persian origin, and very unlikely to be taken up by Arabs, of whatever sectarian affiliation.)

HRW: Syria continuing use of cluster bombs

The Syrian government is currently using cluster munitions in its ongoing conflict, according to a report issued Sept. 4 by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Moniter (LCMM), an organization co-founded by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Cluster munitions are banned under two separate treaties, in 1997 (Mine Ban Treaty) and 2008 (Convention on Cluster Munitions). The latest report identified more than 200 cluster munition sites in Syria, charging: "Syria is persisting in using cluster bombs, insidious weapons that remain on the ground, causing death and destruction for decades... Meanwhile, other countries around the world that have joined the treaty are showing a strong commitment to get rid of cluster bombs once and for all." Neither Syria nor the US have signed either treaty.

Saudi Arabia sentences activist to 8 years

A Saudi Arabian court on June 24 sentenced human rights activist Abdulkarim al-Khader to eight years in prison for sedition. Abdulkarim al-Khader was one of the founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), which aimed to increase awareness of civil rights in the country. He was sentenced to prison  after the ACPRA campaigned for a constitutional monarchy and elections in the Gulf Arab kingdom, during his time as its leader. Three years of the sentence must be spent in jail, and for five years he may avoid imprisonment only if he suspends his activities. The same court sentenced two other human rights activists, also founders of the ACPRA, to 10 years in prison in March. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has denounced the sentencing and demanded al-Khader's immediate release.

Saudi court sentences rights activists to 10 years

A criminal court in Riyadh on March 9 sentenced two Saudi Arabian human rights activists to at least 10 years in prison. The activists were found guilty earlier that day of sedition, providing foreign media with inaccurate information, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organization and other criminal offenses. Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid founded the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, a group that documented human rights abuses, and the group has been ordered to disband. Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in prison and received a 10-year travel ban. Al-Hamid was sentenced to five years in prison, ordered to serve six years of a sentence from which he he had previously been pardoned, and received a five-year travel ban. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has demanded the immediate release of the activists. Both men will remain in detention until a ruling on their appeal next month.

Press was prone on drones, but cover blown

The media are suddenly abuzz with reports that the CIA has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years, from which it has launched numerous strikes on purported militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in neighboring Yemen—including those that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both US citizens who had never been charged with any crimes by the US government. The relevation follows the leaking to NBC this week of a confidential Justice Department memo finding that the US can order the killing of its own citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaeda or "an associated force"—even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the US.

Saudi court convicts Egyptian rights lawyer

A Saudi Arabian court on Jan. 15 convicted prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi of smuggling drugs. Despite requests from Saudi prosecutors for the death penalty, el-Gezawi was given a sentence of five years imprisonment and 300 lashes. El-Gezawi's arrest in April 2012 sparked protests outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo by those who believe the activist was arrested for insulting King Abdullah, leading Saudi Arabia to close its embassy in Egypt for a week. Saudi authorities maintain that he was arrested for attempting to smuggle 20,000 anti-anxiety pills into the country. El-Gezawi had previously filed lawsuits on behalf of 34 Egyptians who were detained in Saudi Arabia without a stated reason. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounced the decision as a political sentence that violates principles of freedom of expression.

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