Amnesty calls on Saudi to release Saudi protester

Amnesty calls on Saudi to release Saudi protester

RIYADH - Agence France-Presse
Amnesty calls on Saudi to release Saudi protester

AFP photo

Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of a Saudi teacher arrested almost a year ago after arriving at the site of a planned anti-government demonstration that never took place.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Amnesty said the trial of Khaled al-Johani, which took place Wednesday, was "utterly unwarranted" calling on authorities to release him "immediately and unconditionally." He "shouldn't be standing trial in any court for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Phillip Luther.

Al-Johani was arrested last March in the capital Riyadh and is being charged with supporting demonstrations, being present at the site of a planned protest, and talking to the foreign press "in a manner that harmed the reputation of the Kingdom," according to the London-based rights group.

On March 11 of last year, Saudi Arabia launched a massive security operation to deter protesters from a planned "Day of Rage" to press for democratic reform in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

The rallies never took place as thousands of police and security personnel set up check-points and deployed in the streets of the capital.

Al-Johani is believed to be the "only protester who was able to reach the location" of the planned demonstration and was arrested "within minutes of talking to BBC Arabic about the lack of freedoms in Saudi Arabia," the statement said.

Amnesty said the 42-year-old father of five, including a six-month old who was born during his detention, is being tried in a court that was established to deal with terrorism charges.

The statement said that Al-Johani, who stood trial at the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, has so far not been granted legal representation, though the judge during Wednesday's hearing said he would be allowed to appoint one "within a week." Al-Johani's trial will resume in April, it added.