Saudi sentences human rights activist to eight years in jail

RIYADH Tue Jun 25, 2013 12:13pm BST

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RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a human rights activist to eight years in prison for sedition after his group campaigned for a constitutional monarchy and elections in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

Abdulkarim al-Khader co-founded the Saudi Political and Civil Rights Association (ACPRA) and served as its head after the imprisonment of two of his colleagues in March.

Mohammed Fahd al-Qahtani and Abdullah Hamad were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges that included sedition and damaging the country's reputation.

Monday's ruling stipulated that Khader will only serve three years in jail, with five years suspended unless he resumes his activities, human rights activists said on Tuesday. He has also been barred from travel for a further 10 years, they said.

The group, which was declared an illegal organisation after the March verdicts, has also accused the government of human rights abuses including torture, jailing political activists and detaining people without trial or after the expiry of their sentences.

A Justice Ministry spokesman could not be reached for a comment but the government has previously denied these accusations.

ACPRA has also represented the families of detainees the government says are Islamist militants who planned attacks on foreigners and officials.

The issue of the security detainees, whose relatives say have been denied fair treatment, has prompted numerous small protests in Saudi Arabia, where demonstrations and political parties are banned.

"(The government) is continuing its campaign against all human rights activists," said Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights lawyer and activist in Jeddah. "They are demanding that you sign a pledge to stop demanding reforms and those who refuse are taken to court and sent to jail."

Abu al-Khair is also on trial for sedition.

The world's top oil exporter is ruled by the al-Saud family whose members hold most top government and military positions and have extensive business interests.

The only elections in Washington's top Gulf ally are for half the positions on town councils that hold few powers.

The al-Saud rule with the backing of powerful clerics from the kingdom's official Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam which bans the public practice of other religions inside Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam.

Saudi political analysts describe King Abdullah as a cautious reformer who has pushed for women to have a bigger role in society and has made the kingdom more tolerant of other cultures.

Foreign analysts say there appears to be little public demand for major political changes in Saudi Arabia now, although they point to evidence on social media of growing frustration at corruption, poverty and a lack of housing.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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