Syrian protesters arrested at Riyadh rally

More than 150 Syrian expatriates reportedly detained at rally in support of the uprising in their country.

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    The reported arrests come inspite of the Saudi king's recent condemnation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad [Getty]

    Saudi police arrested 164 Syrian expatriates in Riyadh earlier this month when they staged a demonstration in support of the uprising in their country, according to a Syrian human rights organisation.

    The protesters were arrested on August 12, just days after King Abdullah's rare public condemnation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The Saudi monarch said in a written statement on August 8 that "what is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," referring to a months-long crackdown which has left thousands of Syrians dead.

    News of the arrests was first made public on Wednesday night by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Mousab Azzawi, a spokesman for the organisation, said it learned of the arrests through human rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

    "I think the protesters felt emboldened because of the king's recent statement on Syria," Azzawi said by telephone from the United Kingdom. "It may be true that the protests violate the rules in Saudi Arabia, but they probably did not expect to be arrested."

    All of the protesters were Syrian citizens working in Saudi Arabia, the group said.

    The Saudi government has offered almost no support for the popular movements sweeping the Arab world this year; the arrests underscore the extent to which Riyadh's criticism of Assad was driven by regional concerns, rather than support for democracy and human rights.

    A familiar pattern

    The arrests could not be independently confirmed, and were not mentioned in the tightly-controlled Saudi press. The Saudi government has not made any public statements about the matter, and the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

    Rami Abdelrahman, the director of the Observatory, said in a statement that the protesters "deserve better treatment," but the organisation was reluctant to openly criticise the Saudi monarch.

    "We believe that the security forces were acting in contradiction of the will of the king," Azzawi said, "and we hope they will be released soon."

    But the arrests in Riyadh are consistent with Saudi Arabia's response to other protests earlier this year.

    Pro-democracy activists tried to organise a "day of rage" in mid-March, but few Saudis took to the streets amidst a heavy police presence. Rallies in eastern Saudi Arabia, some of them in solidarity with Bahraini protesters, have been violently suppressed.

    The Saudi government banned all protests and marches earlier this year. Between 150 and 200 protesters and activists have been detained nationwide since then, not counting Wednesday's arrests, according to human rights groups.

    At the same time, Riyadh has played a role in organising the Syrian opposition, hosting a number of outspoken critics of Assad's government.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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