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Activists say 2013 dark year for Saudi rights

December 25, 2013 • World News


FILE – In this Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011 file photo, Mohammad F. Al Qahtani, a human rights and democracy activist speaks at his home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. With global attention focused on upheaval elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia quietly intensified its clampdown on dissent in 2013, silencing democracy advocates and human rights defenders with arrests, trials and intimidation in what reformists say was one of the darkest years ever for their efforts in the powerful U.S.-allied Gulf state. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — With global attention focused on upheaval elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia quietly intensified its clampdown on dissent in 2013, silencing democracy advocates and human rights defenders with arrests, trials and intimidation in what reformists say was one of the darkest years ever for their efforts in the powerful U.S.-allied Gulf state.

The clampdown reflects the highly delicate times that the world’s top oil producer is passing through.

The monarchy is trying to modernize the country’s economy to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and create a more diverse private sector to provide jobs for a grumbling population. To manage the shifts, activists say it has manipulated the divisions in Saudi society, playing on tribal sentiments and shifting between Saudis who seek a more liberal lifestyle and the ultraconservative Wahhabi clerics who traditionally give the royal family legitimacy.

As it navigates those currents, the monarchy is blunting calls for political reform, fearing an Arab Spring-style upheaval that would rattle the ruling family’s grip on power.

This year, at least nine prominent reformers were given lengthy jail sentences for offenses including “breaking allegiance with the king.” A leading rights lawyer was forced to flee the kingdom for fear of arrest. One of the kingdom’s most prominent rights organizations — the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known in Arabic by its acronym HASEM — was Login to read more

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