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memri
February 16, 2007 No.
1467

Saudi Petition Calling for Reforms Issued by Islamists who Support Terrorism

A petition addressed to King Abdullah bin Abd Al-Aziz was published on February 2, 2007 demanding economic, social, and political reforms in the country. [1] The 19 signatories stated that the success of reforms in Saudi Arabia depends on involving the public in decision-making by establishing a parliament through free elections, on ensuring just distribution of resources and on fighting poverty.

On the next day, February 3, 2007, some of the signatories were arrested on charges of collecting donations for funding terrorist activities.Some of the signatories are indeed known Islamists who support jihad in Iraq.

The following is a translation of excerpts from the petition, as posted on the reformist website www.aafaq.org, as well as details about the signatories' arrest and reactions to it:

Excerpts from the Petition

"We, the signatories [to this petition], who are among those in the civil society who call for justice and for shura [governance by consultation], thank the [Saudi] leadership for its desire to carry out internal reforms and to build a just and shura state, and for the expression of the terms 'freedom,' 'democracy,' 'justice,' and 'involving the people' in statements by some senior members of the leadership...

The following are some of the expressions of justice and shura that are the most important to the future of the country and have the biggest impact on it:

"a) Publishing laws to ensure a just division of funds and lands and a war on poverty, because the main [problem] from which the state suffers is the disparity in the distribution of resources, which the state has in abundance while poverty increases [within the state]. Dealing with poverty demands a focus on reforms in the establishment...

"b) Establishing a parliament of the [Saudi] nation...

"c) The state will initiate the passing of a series of laws expressing the spirit of shari'a, which ensures freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of association...

"d) Passing a just law confirming the legitimacy of the formation of non-governmental organizations and their independence from government. [In addition], the establishment of a supreme council or special ministry for these institutions, in order to formulate registration regulations for them...

"e) Dividing the numerous and highly heterogeneous tasks of the Interior Ministry between two ministries: a Local Municipalities Ministry and a Security Affairs Ministry...

"f) Establishing a [judicial] office for monitoring [the state's] financial affairs... [meaning a state comptroller]

"g) Establishing a High Court of Justice...

"h) Separating the investigative and prosecuting authority from the Interior Ministry, and associating it with the Supreme Judicial Council or with the [office of] the prime minister...

"i) Reinforcing the independence of the judicial [system]." [2]

The Arrest of Several of the Petition's Signatories

The next day, February 3, 2007, some of the petition's signatories were arrested on charges of "collecting donations for funding terrorist activities." According to the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, among those arrested were attorney Suleiman Al-Rashoudi, attorney 'Azzam Hassan Basrawi, Abd Al-Aziz Al-Khariji, Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Shamiri, Sayf Al-Din Faysal Al-Sharif, Dr. Moussa Al-Qarni, and Dr. Saud Al-Hashemi. [3]

A spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry said: "According to the information available to me, the collection of donations was designated for recruiting Saudi youths to travel to neighboring countries and for arming them." [4]

Some of the detainees are indeed known to hold Islamist views and support the jihad in Iraq. Moussa Al-Qarni, for example, is considered "the legal ideologue of Al-Qaeda leader [Osama bin Laden]," while attorney Suleiman Al-Rashoudi was among the supporters of the November 2004 communiqué published by 26 Saudi intellectuals calling for jihad against U.S. troops in Iraq. [5]

Following the arrests, human rights organizations in the Arab world, among them the Arab Committee for Human Rights, the Al-Karama Association for Defending Human Rights, the World Justice Organization, and Human Rights First, issued a communiqué condemning the arrests, expressing solidarity with the detainees and claiming that the arrests were "an indication of a dangerous escalation of human rights violations in the [Saudi] kingdom." [6]

Amnesty International also released a communiqué on the matter, which read: "At least 10 men, including the seven named above, were arrested in the cities of Jeddah and Madinah on 3 February. They are held incommunicado and are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. Amnesty International believes that they may have been detained solely for their peaceful activities in defense of human rights.

"The Ministry of the Interior is reported to have issued a statement claiming the detainees had been arrested because they were collecting money to 'help terrorism.' However, according to other sources they were targeted because they were active as human rights defenders and advocates of peaceful political change. Some of them had been detained before because of their work in defense of human rights." [7]


[1] www.aafaq.org, February 6, 2007.

[2] http://www.aafaq.org/report/aa/2414.htm.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 7, 2007.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 4, 2007, http://www.daawa-info.net/news.php?id=8728 .

[5] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 896, "Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq," April 21, 2005, Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 7, 2007. For the communiqué itself, see http://www.hrinfo.net/mena/achr/2007/pr0206.shtml.

[7] http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE230072007.