July 19, 2007 / 11:06 PM / 12 years ago

Saudi Arabia holds activist, protester

(Adds details in paragraph 7)

RIYADH, July 19 (Reuters) - Saudi authorities on Thursday detained a pro-democracy activist and a woman who led a protest this week over detentions of suspected militants, saying they were being questioned over a weapons stash.

Abdullah al-Hamed, who has been jailed in the past after calling for political reforms, was seized in the city of Buraida, north of Riyadh, on Thursday morning, they said.

He was taken along with Rima al-Juraish and four other women, who took part in a sit-in which Juraish organised on Monday in Buraida, demanding the release of relatives in detention for suspected links to militants, they added.

The four other women were later released.

Hamed is the lawyer for Juraish’s husband, who has been in detention without charge for three years on suspicion of links to militants.

The Interior Ministry confirmed the arrests in a statement given to Reuters, but said they took place after a search for weapons at Juraish’s home which uncovered three machine guns, three revolvers and some ammunition.

It said Hamed and his brother were arrested for trying to break through a security cordon around Juraish’s home. "They refused to obey security instructions and are being questioned to establish his link to the case," the statement said.

A colleague of Juraish who did not want to be named told Reuters that it was the security forces themselves who brought the weapons when they raided the house at dawn, then planted them in a sofa and under floor tiles before arresting the group.

Al Qaeda-linked Islamists launched a campaign to bring down the monarchy in 2003, targeting government installations, foreigners and the oil industry.

Saudi Arabia says it has 3,000 men in detention on suspicion of involvement in militant activities.

Hamed was one of three reformers jailed in 2005 for organising a petition calling for Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and the world’s largest oil exporter, to be transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy.

King Abdullah pardoned the men later that year after he ascended the throne of the kingdom, which has no political parties and bans street protests.

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