Saudi Arabia offers to release activists if they sign pledge

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 16, 2013 10:22 AM

RIYADH (Reuters) - A group of prominent Saudi political activists who were jailed for long terms more than a year ago have been offered release if they sign a document pledging to abandon their activities, their lawyer said.

Bassim Alim, who represented 16 Saudi activists sentenced in November 2011 for terms of between five and 30 years for convictions ranging from financing terrorism to incitement against the king, said 10 of the men had signed the document.

The Saudi government said at the time of their trial that the men, most of whom were arrested in Jeddah in 2007, had aided militants who went to fight against Western forces occupying Iraq.

The defendants said they were purely peaceful activists who had called for political change. Rights group Amnesty International said they had tried to set up a human rights organization.

Riyadh denies it holds political prisoners and has said the detention of the 16 is part of its campaign against Islamist militants who launched deadly attacks directed at foreign and government targets from 2003-06.

"Some of them had been on temporary release while the verdict against them was finalized. The sentences have now been confirmed, meaning they all have to go to prison unless they sign this document," Alim told Reuters.

The document informs the men of their sentence but adds that as "a privilege" awarded to them by the state they can stay out of jail if they "adhere to be being good citizens" and "do not go back to what you were doing".

If they re-offend, they will be returned to prison for the remainder of their sentence. The document asks them to express gratitude for the possibility of release, Alim said. (Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)