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Saudi Court Sentences Reformists to 10 and 11 Years in Prison

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia
Earlier today, March 9 2013, the Riyadh Criminal Court issued its verdict against the two prominent reformists and human rights activists Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, after being prosecuted for “breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor” and “trying to impede the country’s developments”. al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in prison and al-Hamid was sentenced to 5 years in prison in addition to completing his previous sentence (7 years, released after a year with a royal pardon). The judge stated that their presence outside prison was “dangerous” and ordered their immediate arrest. In addition, the judge ordered dissolving the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Associations (ACPRA), and confiscating all of its propriety immediately. The defendants have a right to appeal the decision within 30 days.

al-Qahtani and al-Hamid's trial started in June 2012, separately and secretly. After the first hearing, the judge merged both cases but he insisted that it shall remain behind closed doors. The two activists refused, saying that it was a political trial, and publicity was their only grantee for justice. By the fifth hearing, the judge finally capitulated, turning it effectively into a public trial.

al-Qahtani (left) and al-Hamid (third on left) right before the session. via @DrRAYQ

al-Qahtani (right) and al-Hamid (third on right) right before the session. via @DrRAYQ

Last night, al-Hamid tweeted [ar]:

إلى الإخوة المتشائمين والمشفقين من #محاكمة_حسم لئن سجنا فهو والله نصر كبير جدا للمشروع ومن السجن تشعل الشموع

@Abubelal_1951: To my brothers who are pessimist and pitiful about the ACPRA trial: if we get imprisoned, it's a huge victory for the project and from prisons candles are lit.

Today's session was attended by over 130 supporters, in addition to correspondents from Al Jazeera, Sky News and some national newspapers. The courtroom was filled with over 30 special force members. Outside, al-Hamid came early to collect attendees’ signatures demanding the dismissal of the Interior Minster Mohammad bin Nayef, and the repeal of all secret trial sentences.

Activist Waleed Abualkhair tweeted:

سحب الأقلام بالإضافة الى الجوالات وعدد الحضور وصل الى ١٠٥ حتى الآن بحسب الكشف وهناك ٣٠ لم يسجلوا

@abualkhair: They took our pens and mobile phones. According to the list, the attendees are now 105, there are 30 who haven't registered yet.

Some activists did not manage to enter. Hood al-Aqeel tweeted:

الان في داخل المحكمه وقد منعت من الدخول للقاعه بحجه عدم وجود أماكن فاضيه !!!

@h_141: I am in the court. They did not allow me in saying that there are no free spaces!

In the verdict, the judge said that al-Qaida and ACPRA are the two sides of the same coin. Moreover, he stated that coercive rule is legitimate. Mohammad al-Abdualkreem reported:

توصل القاضي إلى بطلان نظرية العقد الاجتماعي ومنافاتها لعقيدة المسلم، وجواز التغلب والتوريث والتعيين واعتبارها من أصول السلف

@alabdulkarim0: The judge concluded that the social contract theory is invalid and contradicts with the Muslim faith, and that coercive ruling, hereditary monarchy and appointment are fundamental to Islamic practice.

Back in May 2011, al-Qahtani participated in a Women2Drive campaign, demanding lifting the ban on women driving. Apparently, this led the judge to mention something about it in the verdict. Twitter user Jihad Abdullah tweeted:

القاضي قبل قليل يتهم القحطاني بأنه يركب سيارته وزوجته تقود السيارة ومعهم اجانب يتجولون داخل الرياض، طيب هو حر وزوجته وش دخلك ! #محاكمة_حسم

@CheJihad: The judge just accused al-Qahtani of riding his car with foreigners while his wife is driving. Well, he and his wife are free, you have nothing to do with it!

Twitter users noticed that the trial hashtag was filled by automatically-generated, repeated messages that attack the two activists and accuses them of treason. Mishari AlGhamdi tweeted:

نفس العبارة تكتبها عشرات المعرفات الوهمية .. شغل رديء .. حتى شغل التطبيل و التدليس خربه الفساد

@mishari11: The same statement is being written by tens of fake accounts. Poor job. Even kissing up and fraudulence were doomed by corruption.

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

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