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U.S. On Rights In Saudi Arabia

The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report says that Saudi Arabia's human rights record remains "poor overall with continuing serious problems, despite some progress."

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without political parties, and Saudi citizens do not have the right to change their government. Saudi security forces continue to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest people, and hold people incommunicado.

Among those arrested are people who advocate the liberalization of Saudi Arabia's repressive system. Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem is a human rights lawyer who was serving as legal counsel to three leading Saudi reformers arrested in March 2004. Mr. Al-Lahem was jailed in November on charges of criticizing government officials, working against the government, and violating a pledge not to speak to the international press. Before that, Mr. Al-Lahem had been arrested several times after he called for democratic reform and a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia in interviews with the Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah satellite television stations.

President George W. Bush welcomed the first of a series of municipal elections in Saudi Arabia and urged further steps toward reform, including participation of women in a democratic process. The U.S., said Mr. Bush, is now calling on Europe and others to help promote democratic change in the Middle East:

"The advance of hope in the Middle East also requires new thinking in the capitals of great democracies – including Washington, DC. By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability, have only led to injustice and instability and tragedy."

Authoritarian rule, President Bush said, is not the wave of the future, but rather "the last gasp of a discredited past."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.