BEIRUT

Middle East

Saudi judge scraps dissident's lawsuit over detention

RIYADH: A judge on Saturday threw out a dissident’s lawsuit over his three-and-a-half-year detention without trial, saying the government had finally filed its charges against the pro-democracy activist.

Riyadh grievance court judge Abdul Aziz al-Mathi rejected calls to free Suliman al-Reshoudi in the first-ever test of the government’s eight-year-old law requiring that detainees be released after six months if proceedings have not begun.

Mathi said he received a message late on Friday that Reshoudi had been informed of the charges behind his 2007 arrest with several other activists.

He said Reshoudi and the others were advised of the charges in Jeddah on August 15, putting their case in motion and rendering moot Reshoudi’s year-old lawsuit against the security police and interior ministry for detaining him without charge.

Supporters of Reshoudi, 73, angrily denounced the judge’s decision as a sham, saying the Jeddah arraignment was conducted in secret inside a prison, with no lawyers or witnesses, and questioning whether there was even a judge present.

The charges have not been revealed, but are believed to relate to allegations that the men gave support to Islamic extremists, activists said.

“This court is typical, a part of the oppressive political system,” said Abdulrahman al-Hamid, head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association  which organized Reshoudi’s case. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and prohibits all political parties, unsanctioned private associations and NGOs.

The judge also rejected the argument that Reshoudi should be freed because the interior ministry had not sent anyone to attend any of the three consecutive hearings.

Saudi court procedure stipulates that, if one party does not show up for two consecutive court hearings, the judge will rule against that party, according to Reshoudi’s lawyer Abdulaziz al-Wahabi.

Ever since the lawsuit was filed, Reshoudi’s supporters say, the interior ministry has jumped from tactic to tactic to have it dismissed.

Reshoudi was arrested in February 2007 while meeting in Jeddah with activists advocating democratic and social reforms in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

The interior ministry accused them of illegally supporting Islamic extremists, but without formalizing any charges.

The men were held in Jeddah until last January, when they were transferred to Riyadh, ostensibly to face trial in a highly secret Special Criminal Court set up two years ago to try Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

But with Mathi’s decision looming, they were suddenly moved back to Jeddah three weeks ago.

 

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