November 28, 2019 / 10:26 AM / 13 days ago

Three detained Saudi writers freed, others still held: rights group

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has released three people swept up in the latest wave of arrests in a crackdown on free expression, London-based Saudi rights group ALQST said on Thursday, but several more remain in detention.

Those freed are banker and publisher Suleiman al-Saikhan, former blogger Fuad al-Farhan, who later started a small business, and Bader al-Rashed, a journalist who had worked on one of the government’s reform initiatives, ALQST tweeted.

Reuters was unable to reach them directly.

The men were among at least eight people taken from their homes earlier this month by plainclothes police. The reason was unclear as they are not considered frontline activists, though some had written previously about the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The Saudi government communications office has not responded to a request for comment on the arrests.

ALQST is an independent non-governmental organization that monitors and documents human rights violations it says occur in Saudi Arabia at the hands of the authorities.

Riyadh denies having political prisoners, but senior officials have said monitoring of activists, and potentially detaining them, is needed to maintain social stability.

As Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency of the Group of 20 countries, it is struggling to overcome intense international criticism over its human rights record, including last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the arrest of women’s rights activists and the devastating Yemen war.

A verdict in the trial of prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, who was arrested more than two years ago on terrorism-related charges, was postponed on Wednesday for the fourth time, his son said on Twitter.

The public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty against Awdah, who was detained in September 2017 as a crackdown on dissent under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gathered pace. Scores of intellectuals, activists, businessmen and government officials have been arrested.

Public protests, political parties and labor unions are banned in Saudi Arabia, where the media are controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison.

Reporting by Gulf newsroom, Editing by William Maclean

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