Saudi Clerics Slam Protest Calls

Saudi Arabia's top clerics condemned Sunday as un-Islamic calls for demonstrations and petitions demanding reforms in the desert kingdom, a day after authorities warned against protests.

A general view shows the Saudi capital Riyadh

Saudi Arabia's top clerics condemned Sunday as un-Islamic calls for demonstrations and petitions demanding reforms in the desert kingdom, a day after authorities warned against protests.

The Council of Senior Scholars charged that "reform and advice do not take place through demonstrations and methods that fan sedition," in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

The statement from the 10-strong council, headed by the mufti of Saudi Arabia, comes as cyber-activists call for demonstrations on March 11 and 20 to demand change in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

"The council stresses that demonstrations are prohibited in this country, and that the Islamic way of realising common interest is by offering advice," it said.

The council also appeared to denounce recent petitions, addressed to King Abdullah by intellectuals and rights activists, which urged major reforms to transform the absolute monarchy into a constitutional kingdom.

"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," it said.

The council called upon the authorities to "do their job in line with the law of the land," in what seems to be a religious permit to use force against demonstrators.

The interior ministry said on Saturday any kind of demonstration is considered illegal in Saudi Arabia, reminding protesters security forces were authorised to crack down on public protests.

On Friday, several hundred Shiites protested in Eastern Province, calling for the release of an arrested Shiite cleric, Sheikh Tawfiq al-Aamer, and other detainees, witnesses said.

A similar protest was held in Al-Qatif, also in Eastern Province, but was dispersed by police, witnesses said.

On Thursday night, 22 people were arrested as police dispersed a rally in Al-Qatif in which protesters demanded the release of prisoners, said Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, the head of Human Rights First in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, a dozen men gathered at the exit of Riyadh's Al-Rajhi mosque, one of the capital's most important, repeating slogans denouncing "oppression" and the monarchy, according to witnesses.

Three men were arrested, witnesses said.

Activists have called on Facebook for a "Day of Rage" on March 11 and for a "Saudi revolution" on March 20.

AFP