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Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - Page updated at 10:14 PM

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Saudi Activists' Kin Plead to King

Associated Press Writer

Families of several imprisoned pro-reform activists in Saudi Arabia have drafted a letter to King Abdullah asking him to either release their loved ones, jailed for over a year without charges, or bring them to trial.

The draft, made available to The Associated Press on Tuesday, reminded Abdullah of his pledge on becoming king in 2005 to set free all "prisoners of conscience" and also of the kingdom's international commitment to abide by universal human rights.

The letter, expected to be sent to the monarch Saturday, listed 11 activists _ including legal experts, human rights advocates, lawyers and university professors _ and was signed by 16 petitioners, mostly relatives or friends of the detained.

The families' move is a bold one in a country which leading watchdog groups say has a tainted human rights record, including documented cases of flogging and torture in custody, oppression of government criticism and discrimination of women and minority groups, such as Shiites.

A researcher on Saudi Arabia at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Christoph Wilcke, said the "letter reflects the frustration of people who don't know why their loved ones are held."

"But it also shows lack of due process that authorities in Saudi Arabia get away with and for which no one holds them accountable," Wilcke told The Associated Press.

However, one of thee 11 listed in the letter, lawyer Abdullah al-Hamid, was released on bail in July 2007. It was not immediately clear why his name was on the list with others in custody. It was also not clear on what charges the detained were arrested. The letter only said they were rounded-up "for promoting reform" and "defending other prisoners of conscience."

The letter also criticized the stifling of freedom of expression in the kingdom, its crackdown on Internet bloggers and censorship of the press.

"The forcible arrests and violations (of human rights) have targeted a trend of peaceful resistance that only represents the true conscience of this nation," it read, describing the pro-reform activists as a "safety valve which protects this country from violence and aggression."

Saudi Arabia has recently faced increasing criticism from the international community and the United States, the kingdom's top ally, for its human rights record.

___

Associated Press Writer Pakinam Amer contributed to this report from Cairo, Egypt.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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