More than 200 Saudis were allowed to protest outside the Interior Ministry on Sunday to demand the release of detainees in the largest demonstration in the capital since the regional outbreak of pro-democracy unrest.
Saudi authorities ban demonstrations and are increasingly determined to prevent the unrest, particularly Shiite protests in neighboring Bahrain, from spreading to the oil-rich Kingdom.
A massive show of force snuffed out a Facebook-based effort to stage unprecedented pro-democracy protests in Riyadh on Friday. But in heavily Shiite eastern Saudi Arabia, hundreds of protesters marched in at least four different locations, calling for the release of political prisoners and demanding reform. Saudi police opened fire to disperse one of the protests, wounding at least one man.
The protesters Sunday demanded information on the fate of mostly Sunni detainees held on security and terrorism-related charges, and their immediate release.
"My brother is 18, he has beein in detention for four years and until now we don't know anything about his fate or even the charges against him," said Ahmed Ali, one of the protesters.
Another said his 70-year-old father suffers from cancer of the colon and has been in detention for 10 years without receiving medical attention or a trial. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The protesters asked to meet with the interior minister, Prince Nayef, but their request was turned down and they were not allowed to go inside the building.
Eyewitnesses said cameras were set up above the Interior Ministry building to film the sit-in, which some of the protesters said was to intimidate the protesters and possibly arrest them in the next days.
Activists have set up Facebook groups calling for protests in Riyadh and one group garnered more than 30,000 supporters of its demands for free elections.