12 Saudi liberals arrested

April 2, 2004

Five academics were among 12 Saudi Arabian liberals arrested in a countrywide purge last month, according to human rights agencies. One professor is said to have been detained while in the middle of a lecture and handcuffed in front of students.

They were reportedly held incommunicado at the headquarters of the intelligence agency al-Mabahith al-'Amma in Riyadh. Amnesty International said they might be at risk of torture. At least seven, including three academics, have subsequently been released but have been required to sign a written pledge not to put their names to reform petitions or to speak to the press.

Their criticism of the National Commission on Human Rights for being insufficiently independent of the Saudi government and support for a constitutional monarchy seem to lie behind the arrest.

One press report quoted a ministry of interior official accusing the detainees of issuing "statements that do not serve the... cohesion of society... based on the Islamic religion".

Among those detained was former lecturer Matruk al Falih, dismissed after September 11 for writing an article pressing for reforms.

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