International

Saudi jails rights group founder for 10 years: activists

DUBAI: A founding member of one of the few independent human rights groups in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, a regional rights group said on Wednesday.

Mohammed al-Bajadi was sentenced last Thursday by the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, whose jurisdiction is related to “terrorism”, the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) said in a statement.

Bajadi is a founder of the Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), said the GCHR, which has offices in Beirut and Copenhagen.

“The court ordered him to serve the first five years of the sentence and suspended the last five years,” it said, adding that he was tried “without prior notification or access to his lawyers.”

Bajadi, in his 30s, faced various accusations including acquiring banned books, organising a protest by the families of prisoners and publishing material that “would prejudice public order”, the group said.

According to a report by London-based Amnesty International in October, Saudi authorities “have targeted the founding members of ACPRA one by one, in a relentless effort to dismantle the organisation and silence its members, as part of a broader crackdown on independent activism and freedom of expression since 2011.”

Bajadi was one of three members of the group awaiting re-trial. Two others were detained without trial, while three were serving prison terms of up to 15 years, Amnesty said in October.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia deplored criticism of its judiciary and said it does not accept “any form of interference in its internal affairs”.

The comments came in response to worldwide outrage over the sentence of 1,000 lashes handed to another activist, Raef Badawi, for “insulting Islam.”

The foreign ministry said the country’s constitution “is based on sharia (Islamic law) that guarantees human rights”.

Sweden announced on Tuesday that it will not renew a military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, effectively ending defence ties due to mounting concerns over human rights issues.

In January, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem condemned the kingdom’s treatment of Badawi as “nearly mediaeval”.

Badawi received his first 50 lashes in January but there have been no more since. -AFP

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