Saudi activist acquitted of terrorism charges after 5-yrs

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia Mon Feb 20, 2012 10:02pm IST

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A court in Saudi Arabia has acquitted Saeed bin Zuair, a political activist who had been in jail for five years on terrorism charges, his son Abdullah bin Zuair said on Monday.

Bin Zuair, 62, a media professor who has called for political reform, has been jailed three times since 1995, most recently in 2007 on accusations related to security and terrorism.

The late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden once called for his release in an audio recording, but human rights groups say Zuair is a peaceful activist.

"We are very happy for his acquittal... the procedures are not done yet for his release. Now we are waiting for the court to request his release from the interior ministry. We don't know when that will happen," his son told Reuters.

Zuair has in the past spoken out against Saudi reliance on the United States to ensure its defence, criticised moves to allow peace with Israel, called for more democracy and has attacked corruption in the royal family.

On Sunday the Saudi Press Agency said a judge in Riyadh had acquitted "a Saudi Arabian accused of helping al-Qaeda terrorist organisation". Without naming Zuair it said the man had been in possession of banned books, which were confiscated along with a computer, cassette tapes and videos.

"He is a very strong man...It is sad to keep him in jail for several years, then try him and find him not guilty," said human rights lawyer Bassim Alim, who knows Zuair but did not represent him.

Zuair did not appoint a lawyer to defend him because he did not agree with the charges against him, Alim said.

In November, 17 other activists were sentenced to prison terms of up to 30 years on charges including sedition and terrorism after a trial criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabia, ruled by the al-Saud royal family in alliance with Islamic clerics, has attempted slow and cautious reforms but conservatives, who are wary of Western influence, are critical of change.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Angus McDowall and Maria Golovnina)

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