Sunday, March 6, 2011

Saudi Government Says Demonstrations, Marches Prohibited by Kingdom's Laws

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry said that demonstrations, marches and sit-ins are "strictly" prohibited under the kingdom's laws, the Saudi Press Agency said, citing an unidentified official at the Interior Ministry.

Protests "contradict" Islam and the values of society, the Riyadh-based news service cited the official as saying. They harm public interest, infringe on the rights of others, spread "chaos" and lead to bloodshed, the official said.

Public demonstrations are usually prohibited in Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and an absolute monarchy ruled by six kings since it was established in 1932. Websites have called for a nationwide "Day of Rage" on March 11 and March 20 in Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

Other Middle Eastern governments have been the target of a wave of protests this year, inspired by the popular uprisings that forced out the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, mainly Shiite protesters are demanding free elections and a constitutional monarchy.

Bahrain, like Saudi Arabia, has a Shiite community that complains of discrimination by Sunni rulers. The Saudi Shiites make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population.

Shiite Protests

Shiite Muslims in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia held two demonstrations on March 3 to call for the release of prisoners. About 100 people staged the first protest in the Shiite Muslim village of Awwamiya in the kingdom's Eastern Province.

A similar number of people later demonstrated in the city of Qatif under strong police presence.

A third demonstration, demanding the release of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amir, was held yesterday in al-Hofuf in the Eastern Province, according to Tawfiq al-Saif, a prominent Shiite activist from the eastern region, and a second activist, who declined to be identified for security reasons. Al-Amir, a Shiite Muslim cleric, was arrested on Feb. 27 after he called for a constitutional monarchy and equal rights, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website.

More than 100 activists, writers and academics warned King Abdullah of "the prevalence of corruption and nepotism" and the "widening gap between state and society," according to an e-mailed copy of their petition statement on Feb. 27. They called on the king to move the country towards a constitutional monarch.

Awwamiya, a village north of Qatif on the kingdom's Persian Gulf, was the scene of much larger demonstrations in 2009 after police sought to arrest Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who had said in a sermon that Saudi Shiites may be able to seek a state of their own in the future.

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