A court in Saudi Arabia on Sunday sentenced political activist Omar al-Saeed to four years in prison and 300 lashes for urging Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy. Al-Saeed is the fourth member of the pro-democracy group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) [advocacy website, in Arabic] to be imprisoned for criticizing the Saudi royal family [Reuters report]. Human rights activists denounced al-Saeed's imprisonment [Al Jazeera report] as another attempt by Saudi Arabia to suppress dissent. Although Saudi Arabia's government has denied that it has stifled dissent, some human rights lawyers contend that the government has arrested peaceful activists who have called for democratic reforms. It is unclear if al-Saeed can appeal his conviction.
Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism in recent years, especially with regard to its high number of executions. Last month a Saudi criminal court sentenced a militant to death [JURIST report] for his role in an attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah in 2004. In 2008 Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] linking large number of executions in Saudi Arabia to flaws in the Saudi judicial system. In a report released earlier that year, AI found that Saudi Arabia executed more people per capita than any other nation [JURIST report]. According to that report, at least 1,252 people were put to death in 24 countries in 2008, with Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Pakistan and the US accounting for the vast majority of the executions. In July 2008 Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report criticizing a lack of legal protections [JURIST report] for the 1.5 million migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Among other proposed reforms, HRW called on the Saudi government to amend the 2005 Labor Law to cover migrant workers.