The most feared and effective rebel group battling President Bashar al-Assad, the Islamist Nusra Front, is being eclipsed by a more radical jihadi force whose aims go far beyond overthrowing the Syrian leader. Article
Saudi Arabia arrested thousands without trial- HRW
RIYADH Aug 10 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has detained thousands of people as part of its anti-terrorism drive without charging them and sometimes even ignoring court rulings ordering their release, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
New York-based HRW is the second international rights body to criticise the U.S. ally and the world's biggest oil exporter for violating human rights on security grounds. Amnesty International issued a similar report in July.
In a report, HRW said the General Directorate for Investigations, the domestic intelligence agency, was holding an unknown number of people in its prisons, among them foreigners, and dissidents demanding democratic reforms.
HRW estimated that more than 9,000 had been held since al Qaeda launched a campaign in 2003, of whom probably between 2,000 and 4,000 were still detained, said Christoph Wilcke, the author of the report.
Few were ever charged or had access to lawyers, even if Saudi laws limit detention without trial to six months, with the intelligence agency ignoring court rulings ordering a release in some cases, HRW said, citing families of detainees or activists.
"Saudi Arabia's response to terrorism for years has been to lock up thousands of suspects and throw away the key," the organisation said, listing several cases of people held under what it said were questionable circumstances.
A spokesman for the interior ministry declined to comment, saying the government had to study the report first. The ministry has not commented on the Amnesty report.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament whose courts are run by clerics applying an austere version of Sunni Islam.
The report comes after Saudi Arabia in July handed out verdicts in the first publicly reported trials since al Qaeda-linked militants began a campaign in 2003 to destabilise the Gulf Arab state.
In total 289 Saudis and 41 foreigners were sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, state media has said, without disclosing the nationalities. One unnamed person was also sentenced to death, a government official has told Reuters.
No more details have emerged since. Riyadh has said it will give media access to the appeal trials although it is not clear whether this will include foreign outlets. A justice ministry news conference in July was open for local media only.
A group called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula began the campaign to destabilise the government in 2003 but violence was ended by security forces in cooperation with foreign experts. The last major attack was in 2006.
Saudi Arabia's main ally, the United States, and other Western countries rarely criticise the Gulf Arab state, which controls more than a fifth of global crude reserves and is a major holder of dollar assets as well as a key trading partner.
King Abdullah has tried some reforms since becoming king in 2005 and removed two hardline clerics from top positions in a cabinet reshuffle in February aimed at curbing the influence of the religious establishment in education and judiciary.
But diplomats and analysts say his room for manoeuvre is limited given the resistance of conservatives in the ruling family.
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