Mosaic Blog

Saudi Arabia's Forgotten Political Prisoners Emerge From the Shadows

In a report entitled "Saudi Arabia's Political Prisoners: Towards a Third Decade of Silence," the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) describes political imprisonment in Saudi Arabia as  "an epidemic [which] has not spared any sector of Saudi society." According to the IHRC, there are an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia out of approximately 18 million Saudi nationals. The report calls attention to the plight of these political prisoners over the last three decades with hopes that the Saudi government and international community will finally take notice. 


Protests in Saudi Arabia have been ongoing for several months calling for political reform and the release of political prisoners. On Monday, these protests turned violent for the first time when Saudi security forces opened fired at demonstrators. Al-Alam reported that 24 people were injured in the clashes in Saudi's oil-rich Eastern Province. The clashes took place in Qatif and al-Awamiyah, home to a largely Shia population. In an official statement, the Interior Ministry blamed a "foreign country" for the unrest, undoubtedly a veiled reference to Iran, adding that "those involved in sabotage will be dealt with an iron hand." 


Protesters hold pictures of men said to be held prisoner without trial during a protest asking for their release, and the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighbouring Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia's eastern Gulf coast town of Qatif April 14, 2011. Hundreds of Saudi Shi'ites in the oil-producing east took to the streets in protest on Thursday, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and an end to human rights violations, activists said.

In an al-Jazeera opinion piece entitled "Saudi political prisoners long for justice," Hala al-Dosari detailed the case of one mother who appealed to the head of the Interior Ministry for the release of her son, Fahad al-Saeed, arrested nine years ago without trial or charges. The "articulate language and heart-breaking details " of the plea garnered a shocking, first-time response from the government, but one that denied the arrest and detainment of al-Saeed. 


The Independent newspaper reported that protests in the oil-rich kingdom are gaining momentum and are expected spread to more cities. A Facebook page entitled "Revolution of the Eastern Region" is among several opposition websites gaining popularity. What will the spread of protests mean for a country that has long punished political dissidents? 


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Bahrain Jails Medics for Treating Injured Protestors

BBC Arabic reported that a Bahraini military court sentenced one protestor to death for killing a policeman during an anti-regime protest in March. The court also issued harsh prison sentences to 20 medical professionals working at al-Salmaniya Hospital in Manama during the protest movement. Thirteen medics were sentenced to 15 years in prison. According to the Bahrain News Agency, the medics are being charged with "forcefully occupying Salmaniya Medical Centre…possessing unlicensed arms and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news." Several written testimonies of the sentenced doctors indicate that they were physically and psychologically abused, tortured, beaten, sexually harassed, and humiliated while in custody.  

Doctors form a human chain at Salmaniya Hospital fearing an attack by riot police in Manama


On June 14, after Bahrain started the trial of 48 medics, journalist Robert Fisk dispatched an eyewitness account from the hospital to The Independent. He wrote that he saw doctors desperately trying to save the lives of injured protestors shot by Bahraini forces, describing the charges as "a pack of lies."


One of the sentenced doctors, Dr. Fatma Haji, told the BBC that the medics' only crime "was that we helped innocent, helpless people who were just protesting and got injured." In a video to her three-year-old son, she maintained her innocence and expressed hope that when he is old enough to understand, he will be proud of her.


Amnesty International condemned the Bahraini regime for its harsh sentences against the health practitioners. Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme described the charges against the medics as "ludicrous." The Dublin-based human rights organization Front Line also condemned the sentencing after a "deeply flawed and unfair trial." It declared that medical care has been "criminalized" in Bahrain.


In July, Human Rights Watch issued a 54-page report documenting the government's abuses against citizens since February, and called on the Bahraini regime to immediately end its systematic policy of arresting and abusing medical personnel and patients.


(Photo: Doctors form a human chain at Salmaniya Hospital fearing an attack by riot police in Manama, on March 15/ Reuters)


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Has Yemen's Popular Revolution Been Hijacked?

Tens of thousands of demonstrators participated in anti-government protests throughout Yemen today, on what has been called the “Friday of sincere promise.” Since February, Yemen's youth has taken to the street in massive protests and held demonstrations demanding the downfall of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime amid violent efforts by Yemeni security forces to quell protests. The peaceful revolution, however, has seen little progress in the more than six months since its onset. Why has Yemen's revolution lagged so far behind the revolutions of other Arab nations, such as Tunisia and Egypt? Many experts believe the slow pace of Yemen's revolution is due to a lack of unity between Yemen's youth in the streets, opposition groups, and politicians supporting the revolution. Some observers believe the leading opposition group Joint Meeting Parties was too quick to negotiate with a regime that had lost legitimacy, especially as Yemeni's youth has repeatedly expressed its rejection to any negotiations with Saleh's regime or initiatives brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Yemen protestAccording to Foreign Policy Magazine, Yemen's revolution has reached a standstill because it lacks a broad middle class and dynamic civil society. What started as a revolution has now turned into an “elitist struggle for power.” The revolution is said to have been hijacked by tribal leaders and political elites who gave their support to the revolution but who have hidden agendas to gain power. These figures include General Ali Mohsin, a former close ally of Saleh, hardline cleric Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, and leader of the Hashid tribe, Shaykh Sadeq al-Ahman. This question is examined in Press TV's report entitled “Yemen: The Stolen Revolution?” 


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Tonight on Mosaic: Bahrainis plan silent protest for 'dignity'

Bahrain: The Bahraini Coalition for a Republic called on citizens to participate in a silent protest in the commercial center of al-Marfaa called "encircling dignity" in order to avoid an assault by security forces. A number of political societies have also called for "the return to Martyrs' Square," formerly known as Pearl Roundabout, on September 23 and 24. In another development, al-Wefaq Society commended the Jordanian people for refusing to send Jordanian forces to oppress the Bahraini people and described the move as 'admirable.' 


Syria: Russia warned that terrorist organizations could arise in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad's government collapses. Russia has refused to join the harsh US-led sanctions against Damascus and has supported political dialogue rather than military intervention to end the violence in Syria. 


Yemen: Nine people have been killed north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa in clashes between armed tribesmen and Republican Guard units loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Politically, the Yemeni opposition rejected President Saleh's bid to authorize his deputy to sign the Gulf initiative. The Joint Meeting Parties described Saleh's bid as a "political game" and a "maneuver" to cling to power and to "buy more time." 


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Tonight on Mosaic: UN calls on Yemen to halt attacks on peaceful demonstrations

Yemen: The United Nations demanded the Yemeni government put an end to the attacks and use of live ammunition against civilians. In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime to immediately release all detainees arrested for peacefully protesting. Meanwhile, Yemeni protestors in Sanaa flocked to Change Square to take part in a rally called for by the Organizing Committee of the Youth Revolution, demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down and be prosecuted. 


Syria: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Syrian security forces killed three people today. Two died when security forces opened fire on a funeral in the outskirts of Hama, and the third died during a raid in Deir az-Zour. Several protests occurred in Daraa, Hama, Homs, and Deir az-Zour on what is being called the "Tuesday of Anger" against Russia, which still supports the Syrian regime and is preventing any move against Syria at the UN Security Council. Protestors hoped to relay their message to Russia by burning the Russian flag. 


Libya: Residents of Bani Walid continued to flee the city today as battles between the revolutionaries and Gaddafi's battalions continue. Supply and aid convoys follow close behind the revolutionaries to provide them with the necessary food, ammunition, and fuel for battle. Field hospitals also move alongside the battles, taking into consideration the terrain of the site and conditions of the battle. 

Egypt: Former vice president and intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman testified in front of the Cairo Criminal Court today in the case against former President Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli, and six others. They are accused of ordering the killing of protestors during Eygpt's January 25 revolution. The court issued a ban on media broadcasts of the court proceedings and on the publication of witness testimony.  


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