World News

South Arabia preparing charges against activist: lawyer

RIYADH (Reuters) - A prominent Saudi human rights activist will remain in jail, more than three years after his arrest, as state prosecutors are preparing charges against him and other activists, his lawyers said on Saturday.

Former judge Suliman al-Reshoudi has been jailed without trial since 2007 after he and other activists were arrested after drafting a petition demanding political reforms such as a constitution and the right of freedom of assembly.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a close U.S. ally, is an absolute monarchy that has no elected parliament and does not tolerate public displays of dissent.

Reshoudi’s lawyers have filed a rare lawsuit against the authorities, demanding they formally charge him or release him and others, as repeatedly demanded by several human rights groups.

On Saturday, a court in the capital Riyadh decided it would not deal with the lawsuit as the Interior Ministry had informed it late on Friday that another judge was handling the case and that charges were now being prepared, said Abdulaziz al-Wahabi, one of Reshoudi’s lawyers.

“The judge said the case was out of its jurisdiction. It’s very disappointing,” he said, adding that lawyers had been informed that another judge in Jeddah, where Reshoudi was arrested in February 2007, was now dealing with the case.

“We don’t know yet what he will be charged with. The judge said another judge came to the prison on August 15 to tell him to get a lawyer,” Wahabi said, adding the charge sheet now being prepared was more than 60 pages long.

Human Rights First Society, an independent Saudi-based group, said it was disappointing that Rusheidi remained in jail more than three years after his arrest.

“It is unbelievable that the Interior Ministry sent last night, just before the court session, a telegram to inform about the charges. They could have done it a long time ago,” said its President Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

King Abdullah has tried to carry out some reforms since taking office in 2005, but diplomats and analysts say his room for maneuver is limited because of resistance from conservatives and the religious elite.

Saudi Arabia’s Western allies rarely criticize the Gulf Arab state, which controls more than a fifth of global crude reserves and is a major holder of dollar assets as well as a key trading partner.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jon Hemming