DUBAI Nov 22 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
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
Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry says nearly 5,700 people
have been detained in cases concerning suspected militancy.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)