DUBAI (AFP) — Saudi reformists are to send a new petition to King Abdullah calling for the release of fellow activists and an end to the harassment of bloggers and journalists, one of them told AFP.
The petition also demands the promulgation of a law "guaranteeing people's rights and freedom... on the basis of Islamic tenets," said Mohammed bin Hudeijan al-Harbi, one of 12 Islamist reformists who drafted the document.
The petition, which complains that the scope of freedom and "peaceful expression" in the ultra-conservative kingdom has narrowed over the past year, is timed to mark one year since nine reformists were arrested.
One of the nine, lawyer Issam Basrawi, was freed in September after his health seriously deteriorated. But the others, who include lawyers and academics, remain in detention without trial since early February 2007.
"We urge you to ... put an end to arbitrary practices and set free prisoners of conscience and (those held) for peaceful expression of their views," the petition tells the king.
It also calls for "all those arrested, irrespective of the charges against them, to be either released or given a public trial," referring to Islamist suspects held without trial for violence which broke out in 2003.
Harbi said signatures were being collected for the petition to be sent to King Abdullah within a month, even though two previous petitions sent since last April did not elicit a response.
One of the previous messages demanded the establishment of an Islam-based constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by an absolute monarchy and prohibits political parties.
The other called for the release of the nine reformists, saying they had only been mulling the formation of an Islamic political party and accusing the interior ministry of trying to discredit them by associating them with terror funding.
The new petition slams the "unfair trials based on fabrications" which resulted in jail sentences of six and four months against prominent Islamist reformist Abdullah al-Hamed and his brother Issa on charges of inciting women's protests.
The two men are appealing the sentences passed in November and are free on bail.
The petition cites other activists arrested or harassed.
It condemns the arrest in December of Internet blogger Fuad al-Farhan and the harassment of other bloggers and the closure of their blogs "because they champion reform."
Journalists have also been targeted, including a television presenter arrested along with his female studio guest after she criticised a government institution, the document says.
It warns that such abuses are liable to fuel frustration and violence because they targeted peaceful activists.
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