"It's an internal matter, nobody has the right to speak about it," the minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the official SPA news agency.
  
Rice flew into Riyadh last week during a regional swing after delivering a major speech in Cairo calling for sweeping democratic change and naming Saudi Arabia as one of the states still lagging. 
  
"Three individuals in particular are currently imprisoned for peacefully petitioning their government - and this should not be a crime in any country." she told 600 Egyptian officials, scholars and students at Cairo's American University.
  
Activists jailed

She was referring to three activists sentenced to between six and nine years in prison in May on charges of demanding a constitutional monarch in the ultra-conservative Gulf country. 
  

"They are in the hands of the court. The government cannot interfere"

Prince Saud al-Faisal,
Saudi foreign minister
  

Ali al-Demaini, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh were found guilty of  "using Western terminology" in formulating their demands.

They also allegedly questioned the king's role as head of the judiciary.
  
The trio were the last activists held from a dozen people arrested in March 2004.
  
Official protest

The US State Department had already registered concern over the fate of the activists and Rice raised the matter in her talks here with the Saudi leadership.
  
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said after his talks with Rice that he had told her that the prisoners had broken the law. "They are in the hands of the court. The government cannot interfere until the court action is taken in this regard."
  
"The row is really meaningless," he said then. "The assessment that is important for any country in the development of its political reform is the judgment of its own people."