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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Saudi Kangaroo Court Sentences 3 Democracy Advocates To 9 Years Prison

Saudi court sentences three reformists to jail.

RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi court jailed three prominent reformists on Sunday for up to nine years for trying to sow dissent and challenge the royal family, dealing a blow to tentative reforms in the absolute monarchy.

Judges at the Riyadh court, which was ringed by security forces, issued their verdict after a nine-month trial held mainly behind closed doors despite earlier promises of openness.

The court sentenced academics Ali al-Dumaini to nine years in jail, Abdullah al-Hamed to seven years and Matruk al-Faleh to six years, lawyers said. All three were arrested in March 2004 after petitioning the kingdom's rulers to move toward a constitutional monarchy and speed up political reforms.

Their arrest -- along with nine other men who were later released -- drew rare public criticism from the United States which has pushed for reform in ally Saudi Arabia since the Sept. 11 attacks, which were carried out by mainly Saudi hijackers.

"This is not fair," Faleh's wife Jamila al-Ukla said after the sentences. Her husband supported "the centrality of the royal family, the country and Islam," she said. "(To call for) constitutional monarchy is not a criminal issue."

Lawyer Ali Ghothami said the men would appeal the ruling.

Ghothami said the panel of three judges found that the men had "overstepped the bounds" by talking to foreign media, had ignored national interests, intended to incite people and "gave a chance to the nation's enemies to harm it."

They were also convicted of defaming officials and challenging the independence of the judiciary.

Specifically the judges cited Faleh's criticism of Saudi Arabia's education system, which he blamed for two years of violence by al Qaeda supporters, Ghothami said.

Dumaini had "incited (people) against the Wahhabi school" of Islam in Saudi Arabia, which critics blame for fostering anti-Western sentiment and militancy. Hamed had "challenged the authority of the ruler," according to the court.

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