DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia arrested two rights campaigners, an international human-rights group said on Monday, in what it called a drive by the kingdom’s rulers to crush the country’s human rights movement.
Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid, both founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), were arrested over the weekend, Amnesty International said.
Both were awaiting appeals of prison sentences handed down against them last year, on charges ranging from defaming the country’s top religious body to communicating false information to harm the image of the state, according to an appeal by Amnesty on behalf of Hamid last year.
Saudi officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the weekend’s arrests, which come amid a crackdown on potential opponents of the kingdom’s rulers that has attracted rebuke from rights groups.
“This is a dark time for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia,” Samah Hadid, director of campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle-East, said in a statement.
“These two arrests have confirmed our fears that the new leadership under Mohammed bin Salman is determined to crush the Kingdom’s human rights movement,” she added, referring to the Saudi crown prince, seen to be running the global oil exporter.
ACPRA was founded in 2009, then shut down in 2013. All 11 founding members have since been jailed.
“Saudi Arabia’s embattled human rights community has already suffered heavily at the hands of the authorities, and now with these latest arrests almost all the country’s most prominent human rights defenders are in prison on bogus terrorism-related charges,” Amnesty said in its statement on Monday.
“These peaceful activists should be applauded for their courage in standing up for human rights, not rounded up and locked up.”
Saudi authorities have rounded up some 30 clerics, intellectuals and academics this month in what Human Rights Watch has described as “a coordinated crackdown on dissent” .
Reporting by Sami Aboudi, editing by Larry King