Saudi activist sentenced to 15 years in jail for protests: lawyer

DUBAI Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:11am EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday sentenced a Saudi blogger and activist to 15 years in jail for taking part in protests and defaming the kingdom by communicating with foreigners and through publishing articles on the Internet, his lawyer said.

Fadhel al-Manasef, 26, is the latest activist to be convicted this week on charges which international human rights groups and activists in the kingdom say are part of a new drive to curb political, religious and social dissent. The government denies there is any crackdown.

The Special Criminal Court in the capital Riyadh also fined Manasef 100,000 riyals ($26,700) and barred him from traveling abroad for 15 years after he completes his sentence, the lawyer, Waleed Sulais, told Reuters by email.

Officials from the Justice Ministry were not available to comment on the report.

Sulais said the court found Manasef guilty of charges that included incitement and participation in demonstrations, writing articles against state security and posting them online, signing an anti-government petition and contacting foreign judicial and media outlets without authorization and taking reporters to protests and giving them harmful information on the kingdom.

Sulais said Manasef, who has been in detention in a jail in Dammam since October 2011, was convicted in three cases that date back from 2009.

Sulais said he planned to appeal the verdict and said Manasef, who is also a photographer, denied the charges and demanded proof of the charges of giving harmful information.

The ruling came two days after prominent Saudi rights lawyer and activist, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was detained by authorities after appearing in court in Riyadh on sedition charges, according to his wife, Samar Badawi.

Human Rights Watch called for Abu al-Khair's release.

"Saudi authorities have repeatedly harassed Abu al-Khair for his human rights work, and now they've suddenly jailed him without letting him notify his family," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Thursday.

"The authorities should free Abu al-Khair immediately and drop the charges against him."

State news agency SPA also reported on Thursday that an unidentified activist was sentenced to six years in jail on charges including taking part in illegal demonstrations and organizing women's protests.

Another unidentified activist was also sentenced to three years in jail for spreading lies against King Abdullah and inciting the public against him, SPA said.

The world's top oil exporter has regularly dismissed criticism of its human rights record by Western countries and campaign groups.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Sonya Hepinstall)

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