At least 10 members of the minority Shi’a community in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, including seven juveniles, are being held incommunicado and are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
They were arrested this month in connection with demonstrations against the arrest by security forces of Shi’a visitors to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in the city of Madina in the west of Saudi Arabia.
The incident started when the Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue (CPVPV), filmed Shi’a women visiting the tomb In February.
This angered a wider group of Shi’a men and women visiting the tomb and led to them protesting outside the offices of the CPVPV in Madina to request the handover of the footage.
The situation escalated into a series of clashes when members of the CPVPV attacked the protesters; a number of the protesters were injured and at least nine were arrested, but released after about one week in detention.
According to Minister of Interior Prince Naif bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud, individuals from the Sunni community were also arrested.
Demonstrations are not allowed in Saudi Arabia. Those who defy this ban are often held incommunicado without charge, denied access to the courts to challenge the legality of their detention, and may be tortured.
The six juveniles aged between 14 and 16, were arrested between 4 and 8 March for taking part in a protest on 27 February in Safwa, Eastern Province. They are held in a children’s home in al-Khober. Most of them are reported to be denied visits by their families.
At least four others, including one juvenile, were arrested after taking part in gatherings which have been taking place in al-‘Awamiya in the Eastern Province since 19 March. The gatherings have been held in protest against an order issued for the arrest of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Namr, a leading Shi’a cleric and mosque imam in al-‘Awamiya. The arrest order is said to be related to his criticism of the attacks on Shi’a visitors to the tomb and of the general religious intolerance against the Shi’a community in Saudi Arabia.
Those arrested include ‘Ali Ahmad al-Faraj, the 16-year-old nephew of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Namr, who was arrested on 22 March. They also include Nouh ‘Ali Salih ‘Abdul Jabbar and Makki Al-‘Abbas, who were arrested on 19 March. Their whereabouts are said to be unknown to their families.
Amnesty International has called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to ensure that the detainees are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and that they are given regular access to their families and lawyers, and any medical attention they may require.
The organization has also called on the authorities to release the detainees immediately and unconditionally if they are being held solely for taking part in peaceful protests.