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Jailed Saudi Reformists: Activists or Not?

THE Washington Times has a very interesting article today about the nine jailed Saudi reformists in which it quotes Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, saying that he does not entirely believe the Saudi government’s accusation that the nine were involved in funding terrorists in Iraq.

“Based on the evidence I have seen, it appears more likely that these men were actually democracy activists,” the senator told United Press International. The article goes on to say that several US intelligence officials admitted that the arrests had not been a good bust.

To recap, on Feb. 2 nine Saudi reformists pushing for more democracy, including Dr. Saud Al-Mokhtar, Musa Al-Qarni, lawyer Issam Basrawi, Abdulaziz Al-Khereiji, Suleiman Al-Rashoudi and Abdulrahman Al-Shumeiri were arrested in Jeddah. The Ministry of Interior later released a statement saying that three of the nine men had been involved in sending funds abroad that ended up financing insurgents in Iraq. A former Saudi official told me that they had been warned four times to stop sending money abroad, but that they had not listened.

I interviewed the sister of Dr. Saud Al-Mokhtar yesterday, Dr. Afaf Al-Mokhtar, and she insisted that her brother was not a terrorist. “He lives to serve Islam and the Saudi people,” she told me. “We were all shocked when he was arrested, because our government called him many times to be on Saudi TV.”

Dr. Saud used to hold weekly discussion meetings at his house in Jeddah every Tuesday, with a different topic and guest speaker each time. At those meetings, which Dr. Afaf says were open to everyone (she pointed out that government officials attended many times), several collection boxes, one for Iraqi refugees and another for Palestinian refugees, were regularly passed around the audience to collect donations.

Dr. Saud Al-Mokhtar

I spoke to lawyer Bassem Alim, who is representing several of the reformists, and he said that none of the money collected was knowingly given to any terrorists.
But Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told UPI that the line separating democracy activists from terrorism supporters was not always very clear.

Several persons close to the activists that I interviewed told me that the nine had sent a petition to the king asking for more democracy and the splitting of the Ministry of Interior into two parts. This has allegedly angered high government officials, triggering the arrests.

“We are so worried about him,” said Dr. Afaf. “We haven’t called anyone in the government as we don’t know whom to contact. But so many people have been sending emails and letters to encourage him, saying very nice things about him.”