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Saudi Arabia court sentences human rights activitsts to 10 years in prison

A Saudi Arabian criminal court in Riyadh on Saturday sentenced two Saudi Arabian human rights activists on to at least 10 years in prison. The activists were found guilty [CNN report] earlier that day of sedition, providing foreign media with inaccurate information, founding and operating an unlicensed human rights organization and other criminal offenses. Mohammed Al-Qahtani and Abdullah Al-Hamid founded [Reuters report] the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, a group that documented human rights abuses, and the group has been ordered to disband. Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in prison and received a 10-year travel ban. Al-Hamid was sentenced to five years in prison, ordered to serve six years of a sentence from which he he had previously been pardoned, and received a five-year travel ban. The trial was open to both the press and public. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) [advocacy website] has demanded the immediate release [press release] of the activists. Both men will remain in detention until a ruling on their appeal next month.

Saudi Arabia has been criticized for conducting unfair trials against human rights activists. A Saudi Arabian court in January convicted [JURIST report] prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi of smuggling drugs and sentenced him to five years imprisonment and 300 lashes. El-Gezawi's arrest sparked protests by those who believe the activist was arrested for insulting King Abdullah. In December Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Saudi Arabia to drop apostasy charges [JURIST report] against a website editor who co-founded the religious discussion website Free Saudi Liberals, claiming that his arrest violated his right to freedom of expression. In August several international human rights groups sent a letter to the Saudi Ministry of Justice [official website, in Arabic] seeking to ">observe the trials of four rights activists [JURIST report] who faced charges of defaming the country's reputation, supporting international human rights groups and sparking demonstrations against the government.

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