03/07/2011, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Demonstrations and appeals deemed “unIslamic” by religious scholars and government

Interior Ministry and the Council of Senior Scholars issue bans on any form of protest in favour of reform, targeting online appeals and petitions by intellectuals.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Every jasmine revolution-like protest or rally is banned in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Interior minister announced on TV. Security forces are prepared to use every means at their disposal to prevent actions that threatened public order. On Sunday, the country’s top religious leaders issued a statement, slamming as “unIslamic” calls for demonstrations and pro-reform petitions.

Both announcements come in the wake of a series of protests that broke out in Shia regions of the country, not far from Bahrain, and a wave of online appeals for a jasmine uprising similar to that of Egypt and Tunisia. The turn of events was sufficient for King Abdullah to adopt measures to reduce social dissatisfaction (see “Jasmine uprisings: Saudi Arabia fears contagion, contemplates reforms,” in AsiaNews, 21 February 2011).

"Regulations in the kingdom forbid categorically all sorts of demonstrations, marches and sit-ins, as they contradict Islamic Sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society," the Saudi Interior Ministry statement said. Police, it said, was "authorised by law to take all measures needed against those who try to break the law".

However, Shia clergyman Tawfiq al-Ahmar was released on Sunday. He had been arrested on 27 February after calling for a constitutional monarchy. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy under wahhabi rule.

The ten-member Council of Senior Scholars, chaired by the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, issued a statement saying that “The council stresses that demonstrations are prohibited in this country, and that the Islamic way of realising common interest is by offering advice”.

“Reform and advice are the Islamic way and would carry benefits and prevent evil, and that does not happen through intimidating and seditious statements on which signatures are collected," the statement read.

The declaration was referring here to online appeals for demonstrations on 11 and 20 March, and to the requests addressed to King Abdullah made by intellectuals and human rights activists for changes to Saudi society and constitution.

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