Riyadh: Dozens of Saudis staged a rare protest on Monday against the detention of relatives held without trial for security offences.
Up to 50 people, including eight women, stood quietly outside a prosecutor’s office by the side of a Riyadh road watched by uniformed policemen sitting in three police cars.
Saudi Arabia says it has no political prisoners and last year said it had put on trial 5,080 of nearly 5,700 people it had detained on security charges since a series of attacks against foreign and government targets in 2003.
The Saudi embassy in London in December responded to an Amnesty International report that the authorities justified cracking down on dissent by citing security concerns by saying it was based on inaccurate information.
The protesters included adolescents and elderly people. They stood in a tight group without waving placards or shouting slogans. One woman, holding a walking stick, sat on a chair.
“My brother told me he was taken to court last year but it was a secret trial and they didn’t let him choose his own lawyer. It’s been over a year and we still don’t have the result of the trial. In my opinion this trial is nothing but a show,” said a protester, who did not want to be named for fear of arrest.
He said his brother had been arrested 11 years ago after returning from Afghanistan where he had gone to fight and that he complained of being beaten in detention.
A spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry was not immediately available to comment but the government has repeatedly denied using torture.
The women protesters wore traditional face-covering veils and many of the men, who also wore traditional dress, also covered their faces with their red-and-white checked Arab scarves, seemingly to hide their identities.
Despite persistent demonstrations from members of its Shiite minority that have continued into 2012 and a facebook campaign last spring calling for a “day of rage” the country’s Sunni majority mostly stayed off the streets.
However, there have been some small protests outside Shiite areas since the start of last year over specific issues.
In January 2011 unemployed teachers protested in Riyadh and in Jeddah residents of an area hit by floods also demonstrated. Detainees’ relatives protested in February and June last year.
In March this year thousands of students at an all-female university in Abha, in southern Saudi Arabia, boycotted lectures after police broke up a protest by some of their classmates over poor campus services.