Saudi activists sentenced to long prison terms

DUBAI Tue Nov 22, 2011 10:38am EST

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DUBAI Nov 22 (Reuters) - A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced 17 men to prison sentences of up to 30 years on Tuesday for sedition and other offences, a lawyer for some of the defendants said.

"Myself, their families and judges whom we know on the bench are all shocked," defence lawyer Bassim Alim told Reuters.

He added that the judge had promised a written verdict in two to three weeks, at which time a 30-day window for lodging appeals would be open to the accused - who have been described by Amnesty International as proponents of peaceful reform.

Justice Ministry spokesmen were not available for comment.

Most of the group of activists, academics and lawyers were detained in 2007 after they met in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah to discuss potential political change in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy governed by a strict form of Islamic law.

Amnesty International described the men in its 2011 annual report as "advocates of peaceful political reform".

They were charged, among other crimes, with attempting to seize power, incitement against the king, financing terrorism, electronic crimes, money laundering and trying to set up a political party, Alim said before the sentencing.

Suleiman al-Rashudi, a retired judge, was sentenced to 15 years, Saud Mukhtar was sentenced to 30 years, Musa al-Qurni to 20 years, Walid al-Amri to 25 years, Abdulrahman Sadiq to 20 years and Abdulaziz al-Khariji to 22 years, Alim said.

"I do not have any hope with how things are moving now," he said by telephone when asked about the chances for appeals.

"Our only hope is that the king intervenes with a pardon of sorts. But nevertheless we will give it our all and wait for God's intervention."

Christoph Wilcke of Human Rights Watch said some of the men were accused of plotting Islamist attacks in Iraq.

"Because of that stark contrast of opinion it would have been good for the trial to be transparent and fair," said Wilcke. "But it took over three years for these accused to be formally charged and transferred to trial.

"The government has prevented the legal representatives for the accused to meet with their clients or to attend trial sessions."

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry says nearly 5,700 people have been detained in cases concerning suspected militancy. (Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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