Saudi detains activist after demonstrations near Yemen border

Reuters News

9/30/2012 10:37:43 AM - Reuters News

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A Saudi activist detained after calling for protests against the displacement of families near the border with Yemen began a hunger strike on Sunday, his lawyer said.

Eisa al-Marzouq al-Nakhifi, from Jazan Province in southern Saudi Arabia, was arrested two weeks ago and started a hunger strike to protest against being detained without any date set for a court hearing, his lawyer told Reuters.

Nakhifi had campaigned on behalf of villagers evacuated from their homes near the border during a brief conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels in late 2009. Some say they have not been allowed to return.

He had also raised the issue of prisoners jailed as part of Saudi Arabia's campaign against Islamist militants. Detainees' family members - who deny their relatives are militants and call them prisoners of conscience - have staged small protests since early last year.

"Eisa was calling for demonstrations to demand the rights of the families on the southern border as well as the families of detained individuals and prisoners of conscience in all of Saudi Arabia," lawyer Amr al-Rafei said.

The authorities had accused Nakhifi, in an arrest warrant, of interfering with state security via online calls for protests, Rafei said, adding he was still being held even after the investigation was completed.

"They refused to release him until his case is looked at by the courts and we still don't know when his first hearing will be, it has not been decided. Eisa started a hunger strike today in protest against their refusal to release him," Rafei said.

A spokesman from the Interior Ministry could not immediately comment on the case.

The villagers evacuated during the Saudi-Houthi war protested earlier in September, demanding to be allowed to return home or be paid compensation, according to a website set up by local people that reports on the issue.

The site posted a picture dated September 27 showing a sit-in of dozens of men dressed in traditional clothes in front of a barbed wire fence that the website said separates them from their homes.

"Officials, if you will not take us young people into consideration, then be considerate of the elders who are unable to demand their rights," an anonymous protester commented under the picture.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Angus McDowall and Robin Pomeroy)