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Saudi Dissidents Sentenced

On May 15th, a court in Saudi Arabia found three dissidents guilty of sowing dissent, disobeying Saudi Arabia's rulers, and sedition. Ali al-Dimeeni was sentenced to nine years, Abdullah al-Hamed to seven years, and Matrouk al-Faleh to six years in prison.

The three men were among thirteen people arrested in several Saudi cities in 2004. They had circulated a petition calling for a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, and signaled their intention to form an independent human rights organization. The Saudi government released ten of the detainees after compelling them to sign an agreement that they would cease their public petitioning. According to Human Rights Watch, Ali al-Dimeeni, Abdullah al-Hamed, and Matrouk al-Faleh refused to sign the agreement and were kept in prison.

Human rights groups have condemned the sentences handed down against the three Saudi dissidents. Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb heads an independent Saudi group, Human Rights First. He said the sentences were "too harsh" and "very unfortunate." "There is no logic behind them," he told the Associated Press news service. "This is a farce."

Leah Whitson is executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division. She called the sentences "brutal" and said the Saudi authorities "are trampling on the right to free speech." "For all its talk of democratic reforms," she said, "the Saudi government is imposing long prison terms on those who call for peaceful political change."

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 elected representative institutions or political parties, and Saudi citizens do not have the right to change their government. A series of recent municipal elections in Saudi Arabia were the first elections in the kingdom in more than three decades. Yet despite this step forward, women were not permitted to participate and political parties remain outlawed in Saudi Arabia.

President George W. Bush has said that rights "are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed." The United States, he said, will "encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people." "In the long run," Mr. Bush said, "there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty."

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