By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Dozens of men were arrested on Monday by Saudi security forces in the desert around Tarfiya prison in central Qassim province, where more than 100 demonstrators staged a one-day protest to press for the release of relatives. The arrests happened after the police confined protesters to a desert area outside the prison, where they were kept without food or water for nearly a day.
Protestors say they ended the demonstration when police forces confronted them with shields and batons, telling them that “their message had been heard and their demands would be looked into.”
Referring to Monday’s arrests, Reema Al-Juraish, who protested her husband’s incarceration, said “[w]hen we left the ‘Emergency Forces’ followed our cars. They chased us to detain the men. I saw them grab five and when I tried to intervene they pushed me and hit me with a baton.”
Al-Juraish claimed that she saw the police arrest up to 60 men, who were then taken to an unknown location. Saudi Arabia says that it is holding protestors’ relatives for reasons of security. The activists believe that their family members were detained for purely political activity and have never been charged with crimes.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry claimed that those accused of “terrorism related” activity were undergoing a fair judicial process. “As for the gathering of a limited number of relatives of the detained people at a prison, they have been stopped according to legal procedures and will be dealt with if they are found in violation of the laws,” the spokesman said in reference to the protestors.
The Interior Ministry says that 5,080 of the nearly 5,700 people it detained last year on security grounds were put on trial.
In Riyadh, a separate protest took place in front of the Saudi Human Rights Commission. Ever since uprisings took place last year, the country has been criticized for its human rights record regarding prisoners detained for participating in anti-government protests. Rights activists say hundreds of political prisoners remain incarcerated in harsh conditions without access to a lawyer. People have even been arrested by police forces for “looking suspicious,” and have been held for many years without ever being formally charged for a crime.
One such prisoner, human rights campaigner Mohammed Al-Bajadi, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison last April. He had been accused of forming a human rights association, tarnishing Saudi Arabia’s reputation, questioning the independence of the judiciary, and owning illegal books.
The non-governmental Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association claims that some 30,000 political prisoners are currently being held by Saudi forces.
For further information, please see:
The Daily Star — Dozens Arrested After Prison Protest in Saudi Arabia — 25 September 2012
Tehran Times — Saudi Forces Detain Dozens of Protesters — 25 September 2012
Al Jazeera — Dozens of Saudis ‘Detained’ After Jail Rally — 24 September 2012
Reuters — Dozens Arrested After Saudi Prison Protest — 24 September 2012