Massive Police Presence on “Friday for Detainees” in Saudi Arabia

Shortly after the arrest of Suleiman al-Rashoudi, the head of independent human rights organization Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), anonymous activist group @e3teqal [which translates to “detainment”] announced that today, December 21, will be a “Friday for Detainees” and called for country-wide sit-ins.

In a statement, the group said [ar]:

فإننا مجموعة من المشايخ والنشطاء المهتمين بقضية معتقلي الرأي ندعوا لاعتصامات في كل مناطق المملكة أمام مساجد محددة بعد صلاة الجمعة يوم 8 صفر 1434 الموافق 21 ديسمبر 2012 وقد دعانا للجوء للاعتصامات أن كل الوسائل الهادئة السرية لإطلاق سجناء الأي لن تكن مجدية.

We, a group of clerics and activists who are concerned by the issue of prisoners of conscience, call for country-wide sit-ins outside certain mosques after Friday sermon on December 21, 2012. What made us call for sit-ins is the fact that all calm and secret methods for releasing prisoners of conscience have failed.

Logo of the event

The Saudi Arabian government strictly prohibits all kinds of demonstrations and sit-ins. The rule, however, has been challenged many times over the past two years by relatives of arbitrarily-imprisoned people, and by the activists behind @e3teqal. Arbitrary imprisonment is the top human rights issue in Saudi Arabia. ACPRA's estimate of the number of arbitrary detainees is over 30,000, many of whom were arrested during the massive, post-9/11 “war on terrorism”.

On Thursday night, the group announced three major mosques for the planned sit-ins in Riyadh, Jeddah and Buraidah. Outside these mosques, there was very heavy police presence today in anticipation of the protests. Ex-political prisoner Thamer al-Khodhor tweeted:

من رأى جامع العميم في بريدة يعرف معنى الثكنه العسكرية

@thamaer14338 Those who saw Ameem mosque in Buraidah know what a “military battalion” is.

In Riyadh, heavy police presence was not only around the announced mosque, but also around other large mosques. Saudi Twitter user Yaser al-Mehlib tweeted from Riyadh's largest mosque, al-Rajhi mosque, saying:

الآن هيلوكبتر تحوم فوق جامع الراجحي ! أصلحوا ماأنتم خائفون منه

@yyeessrr: A helicopter is now flying above al-Rajhi mosque! Fix what you are afraid of!

Ironically, Twitter users also reported police presence around the building of the governmental Human Rights Commission:

تعزيزات أمنية الان عند مبنى هيئة حقوق الانسان وعند جامع الراجحي

@SALEHTAREG: Police presence in front of Human Rights Commission building as well as al-Rajhi mosque.

@e3teqal published a video of tens of young men who choose a different location to protest. The chants in Arabic echo the all too familiar Arab Spring cry, with a Saudi-specific demand: “The people demand the liberation of prisons”:

A banner held at today's protest which reads: Our captives are in danger; release them now

A banner held at today's protest which reads: Our captives are in danger; release them now. Photograph shared on Twitter by @BahiaAlrushoody

Also activist al-Rashoudi's daughter Bahia, uploaded photos of the signs they had and tweeted:

أسرة الرشودي مع عشرات النساء تجمعن وهتفن بالحرية للمعتقلين رغم الإستنفار الأمني وأدين الواجب والحمدالله

@BahiaAlrushoody: al-Rashoudi's family members and tens of women gathered and shouted for freedom of the detainees despite police presence. Thanks God, we did what we should do.

The hashtag of the sit-in (#جمعة_المعتقلين) [The Friday of Detainees] was filled with identical pro-government tweets by newly-created accounts. In the screenshot, all tweets are read: “God bless Saudi Arabia's security and prosperity”:

When a new hashtag was announced (#جمعة_الرعب, Friday of fear), the newly-created accounts filled it with tweets that demand the release of Hamaza Kashgari, the very controversial Saudi columnist who is accused of insulting Prophet Mohammad:

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