Detainees disappear into black hole of Saudi jails

Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:19am EDT
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By Asma Alsharif

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Outside a villa surrounded by palm trees on the outskirts of Saudi Arabia's second largest city Jeddah, police cars guard an exceptional criminal court where 16 men were put on trial this year after more than four years detention.

The men face charges of "funding terrorism" and coordinating with al Qaeda to take power along with a host of other charges finally pressed last year.

Rights activists say the prisoners -- from well-known Saudi families, including professors and a former judge -- were really seized for refusing to heed Interior Ministry warnings to give up political activism and were planning to set up a political party.

"My father is a person who cannot be silent about what is wrong, whether it is in the street, in our house or in society," Eman al-Shemairi, the daughter of one of the men, said in a video put up on YouTube in March.

But the Jeddah detainees are more fortunate than many.

Thousands of people have disappeared into the black hole of Saudi prisons without charge or any indication of when they could be released, Saudi and international rights groups say.

The government says it is an Islamic state ruling via Islamic Sharia law, according religious scholars wide powers in society and an advisory role to the Saudi royal family, which accords itself a benevolent paternal role.

Activists say the result is that security forces can act with impunity, and defendants are subject to an individual judge's interpretation of Sharia law and in many cases are not allowed access to their lawyers.   Continued...