Imprisonment without charges is the top human rights issue in Saudi Arabia. Independent human rights organization Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association's estimate of the number of uncharged prisoners is over 30,000, while the government-sponsored estimate is 4,396. Many were arrested in the massive, post-9/11 “war on terrorism”.
On September 23, 2012, which marked Saudi national day, families of uncharged prisoners took the chance to raise awareness about their case, with a sit-in outside the al-Turfiya prison, near Buraidah. According to Reuters, 60 men, 45 women and 16 children participated in the sit in.
At first, riot police buses surrounded the protesters, and prevented food and water. Co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association Mohammad al-Qahtani tweeted [ar]:
باصات الطوارئ تحاصر المعتصمين في #تجمع_الطرفية ولا يسمحون لأحد الدخول أو الخروج إلى المنطقة، مع أخذ أرقام السيارات، ومنعم من الماء! #حسم
MFQahtani: Riot police buses are surrounding the al-Turfiya sit-in and they do not allow anyone to enter or leave. They also collected the numbers on the registration plates of their cars and prevented water!
One protester threatened to set himself on fire, following the Bouazizi example, if they didn't allow food and water [ar]:
لتشهد وزارة الداخلية والحكومة ،، إمّا أن يتم إدخال الطعام والماء ،، وإلّا سأكون أبو عزيزي آخر ،، فقد أعددت عدتي ،، رتويت
@abosaud3331: Let the government and the Interior Ministry know that I will be another Bouazizi if they didn't allowed food and water. I am ready for this. Retweet.
However, one protester managed to break the blockade and bring some food to the sit-in [ar]:
الماﺀ والطعام وصل من أحد الإخوة بطريقة غير نظامية..!
@abo_otman: Water and food just arrived by someone, illegally!
Al-Qahtani reported that members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, so-called “religious police”, had joined the riot police. The families spent the night in front of the prison, insisting that the prison administration must meet them.
Riot policemen tried to threaten the protesters [ar]:
أبواب المسئولين مفتوحة ولا تعرضوا أنفسكم وعوائلكم للخطر
The doors of the officials are open [for you]. Do not put yourselves and your families in danger.
When a settlement was reached, the protesters dispersed, but when they reached a police check point where supporters were waiting for them to provide food and water, the riot police quickly surrounded and started beating them. Activist Reema al-Joresh was among those who were beaten. They also followed the cars that had left.
Over 50 young men, who participated in the sit-in, are still detained.