August 8, 2005

Saudi king pardons jailed reform activists

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pardoned
five activists on Monday, including three sentenced to up to
nine years in jail for calling for political reforms in the
absolute monarchy, state television said.

The sentencing of the three was met with rare public
criticism of Saudi Arabia by Washington, which has pushed for
democratic reform in the Middle East.

"Interior Minister Prince Nayef announced that King
Abdullah has pardoned and ordered the release of prisoners
Abdullah al-Hamed, Matruk al-Faleh, Ali al-Dumaini and Saeed
ibn Zuair and the release of detained Abdulrahman al-Lahem...,"
state television said.

Hamed, Matruk and Dumaini were sentenced in May on charges
including trying to sow dissent. A Saudi court last month
upheld the jail sentences of six to nine years.

The three had petitioned for the kingdom to move toward a
constitutional monarchy.

Lahem, a lawyer who represented the three activists, was
arrested after he publicized their appeal for help to Abdullah
last year when he was crown prince.

It was the first amnesty by King Abdullah, who came to
power last week after King Fahd died. Earlier on Monday,
Abdullah, who has championed modest reform of the kingdom,
pardoned several Libyans held over a suspected plot to
assassinate him in 2003.