Saudi activists experience darkest year in 2013

Saudi activists experience darkest year in 2013
Thu Dec 26, 2013 11:00:07

Saudi Arabia has quietly intensified its clampdown on dissent in 2013, silencing democracy advocates and human rights defenders with arrests, trials and intimidation in what reformists say was one of the darkest years ever for their efforts in the US-allied Persian Gulf state.

The monarchy is trying to modernize the country’s economy to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and create a more diverse private sector to provide jobs for a grumbling population.

To manage the shifts, activists say it has manipulated the divisions in Saudi society, playing on tribal sentiments and shifting between Saudis who seek a more liberal lifestyle and the ultraconservative Wahhabi clerics who traditionally give the royal family legitimacy.

As it navigates those currents, the monarchy is blunting calls for political reform, fearing an Arab Spring-style upheaval that would rattle the ruling family’s grip on power.

This year, at least nine prominent reformers were given lengthy jail sentences for offenses including “breaking allegiance with the king.” A leading rights lawyer was forced to flee the kingdom for fear of arrest.

One of the kingdom’s most prominent rights organizations — the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known in Arabic by its acronym HASEM — was shut down. A tough anti-terror law was approved by the government, defining acts as vague as “defaming the state’s reputation” as terrorism.

More than 200 protesters, including women and children, were detained in Buraydah, north of the capital Riyadh, for demanding the release of imprisoned relatives. A Saudi man was sentenced this week to 30 years in prison for his role in leading protests by the country’s Shiite minority, who complain of discrimination.

At least five women were detained for several hours for flouting a driving ban, and a Saudi male writer supportive of their push was detained for almost two weeks.

Abdulaziz Alhussan, rights lawyer who fled to the United States, warned that if the monarchy doesn’t address calls for change, the demands could escalate and destabilize the country.

“If we wait another seven to 10 years, we will be in a more dangerous situation than Egypt and Syria,” he told The Associated Press. “What we need to do is fix it before it’s too late.”


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