Saudis protest for release of political prisoners, activist says

Story highlights

  • Demonstrators seek release of political prisoners held without trial
  • Saudi Arabian security forces break up protest, detain participants
  • Videos appear on YouTube, photos on Twitter

Saudi Arabian security forces dispersed and detained dozens of protesters, including women and children, who on Tuesday were urging the government to release political prisoners, according to activists.

Mohammed Al-Qahtani, human rights activist and board member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, told CNN the demonstration took place in front of the offices of the Human Rights Commission on King Fahd Road in Riyadh, the country's capital.

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"These are ongoing protests about political prisoners," said Al-Qahtani, who explained that many of the demonstrators were family members of prisoners who had for years been "languishing in jail cells without due process."

"The government is not willing to take them to court and issue verdicts," added Al-Qahtani, a prominent Saudi activist who is currently on trial in Saudi Arabia accused of, among other things, breaking allegiance to the country's ruler and setting up an unlicensed organization. His case has brought about widespread criticism of the Saudi government by human rights groups.

"These men, women and children were appearing before the Human Rights Commission because no authority (in Saudi Arabia) will listen to their claim and try to provide a solution. That's the root of the problem."

"The response of the authorities was an exaggerated one," he said. "They also shut down one of the major arteries in the city."

While Tuesday's protest could not be independently verified by CNN, at least one video on YouTube purported to show an argument between demonstrators and police in front of the Human Rights Commission in Riyadh.

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Various pictures posted on Twitter also purported to show the demonstrators, some holding signs demanding the release of their relatives. Other pictures appeared to show the small number of protesters surrounded by police.

Demonstrations are extremely rare in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where protests and gatherings are illegal.

CNN has been unable to reach Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry for comment.

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