Gulf group urges release of Saudi liberal activist

AFP , Sunday 7 Oct 2012

A Gulf civil society organsation calls Saudi Arabia for the release of Raef Badawi, a political activist arrested on accusations of setting up a liberal website on the internet

A Gulf civil society organisation called on Sunday for the release of a Saudi activist arrested four months ago in the ultra-conservative kingdom on charges of setting up a liberal website.

"We call for the immediate release of Raef Badawi because the charges against him are unfounded," the secretary general of the Gulf Forum for Civil Societies (GFCS), a body of liberal activists in the region, told AFP.

Anwar al-Rasheed said Badawi, who has been in jail since his arrest in June, was tried in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday and that one of the two charges against him was dropped and his next hearing set for one month's time.

Badawi, 35, was accused of "disobeying parents" and setting up a liberal website on the internet. The disobedience charge was dropped in Saturday's trial, Rasheed said. Rasheed urged international and Arab human rights bodies to pressure the Saudi government to free Badawi, who is married and has two children.

The GFCS head also called on the Saudi government to compensate Badawi for detaining him illegally for several months. Badawi, a Saudi national, is among the founders of the liberal website along with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari and other activists.

The website had announced on May 7 a "day of liberalism" in Saudi Arabia, calling for an end to the influence of religion on public life. A news conference which was set to be held in Jeddah for the occasion was however cancelled after organisers said they had been "advised" by authorities not to hold it.

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