In Support of the "Riyadh Triad"
The three Saudi Arabian democracy activists held in prison the past year for leading calls for a constitutional monarchy were sent back to jail today as their closed court trial was suspended for another three weeks so that prosecuting attorneys could gain more evidence against the defendants. The three were to be tried in August of last year, the date was pushed back to December when 9 journalists and family members were arrested for attempting to attend the trial. The trial was then postponed until February and then again pushed back to this weekend (Saturday, March 12th):
Reformists Ali al-Demaini, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh are also accused of “using Western terminology” in demanding political reforms. They also allegedly questioned the king’s role as head of the judiciary.
Only two members of the seven-strong defense team continue to attend hearings as four were dismissed by the judge and another was arrested.
The crackdown on constitutional reformists has cast doubt on the government’s attempts to introduce limited reforms, claimed to fit Saudi specifications rather than following a Western pattern.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers turned out to be Saudis, reformists in the kingdom began to openly question the values that were being taught to young Saudis in school. The inward look at Saudi values and absolute monarchy provided an opportunity for reformists to press ahead with their demands to make the government more accountable and transparent.
A year later, several petitions were circulated both on the Internet and from hand to hand, and it is estimated that hundreds of Saudis signed the petitions. A group of 15 petitioners met with de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah. It was reported that he received the petition favorably.
Then came a series of domestic terrorist attacks, led by local al Qaeda groups trying to topple the government. The attacks strengthened the position of hard-liners in the Saudi royal family, and a crackdown on reformers followed.
“They are charged with organizing, writing and signing petitions, but hundreds of Saudis have also done that. A guilty verdict would be an indictment not just of my clients but of all reformists,” their attorney, Mr. Al-Lahem said.
Then he was arrested.
Al-Lahem was not with the three this weekend, he was arrested back in November. He was not formally charged until January for criticizing government officials, working against the government, and violating a written pledge not to speak to the international press. Last word is that he sits in solitary confinement. So the trial of the three has proceeded without him.
Mr. Al-Lahem had been in solitary confinement for his first 71 days (back in January), although Saudi law does not allow for such detention to exceed 60 days. He also has gone on two hunger strikes. Al-Lahem wants to be transferred to a different prison. Al Hair where he is currently inprisoned houses jihadists who do not share his views on reform and are not friendly to him or his cause.
The “Riyadh Triad” open trial did not last long.
The trial of the three reformists was to be held in public, a rare occurrence in the kingdom. The reformists allegedly threatened to go on a hunger strike if their trial wasn’t public. After the government agreed to an open trial, the three attended a second hearing on 23 August in Riyadh, but it was postponed after 300 relatives and supporters showed up trying to fit into a courtroom with only 30 seats.
Some press reports tried to blame unruly relatives and supporters for the postponement of the trial, but a Saudi journalist who attended the hearing told the Weekly another story.
“Policemen blocked the passageway between the 11th floor where family members were gathered and the 12th floor where the courtroom is located. We tried several times to go up, but the policemen blocked our way.
Finally a senior policeman gave the okay and we pushed our way up,” the journalist recounted. But when they arrived at the courtroom, they found most seats occupied by plainclothes policemen.
So the officials went back to the typical Saudi style “closed trial” setting. This is how the trial has proceeded. And, this is how the trial will proceed in three weeks when court resumes.
Faced with these attacks on the democracy movement, some Saudi dissidents may be drifting into a state of hopelessness. But others still remain resolute in their struggle for freedom, equality and justice.
In the words of Al-Demaini:
“Oh prison master we are staying here…
Until we see a coming of lightening, freedom and justice.”
Update: I am so glad that the Great Instapundit is linking to this post. I believe this story is so worth telling.