Last updated: 24 April, 2012

Egyptian protesters urge Saudi to free activist

Hundreds of Egyptians protested outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo on Tuesday demanding the release of an Egyptian human rights activist held by Saudi authorities who claim he possessed banned drugs.

The protesters chanted slogans against the Saudi regime as they called for the “immediate” release of Ahmed Mohammed al-Gizawi, arrested on arrival at Jeddah airport last week.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an Egyptian organisation, said in a statement on Monday that Gizawi was held following a sentence of one year in prison and 20 lashes delivered against him in absentia for criticism of the Saudi government.

Gizawi was being targeted for his activism in favour of Egyptian detainees in Saudi prisons, the statement added.

Gizawi had gone to Saudi Arabia with his wife to perform the omra, a minor pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, when he was detained at Jeddah airport without any prior notification of his conviction, the group said.

But the Saudi ambassador Ahmed Adel Aziz Qattan said Gizawi was arrested at the airport when banned drugs were found in his possession, adding that he regretted the “misinformation” published in the Egyptian media.

He said in a statement issued by the Saudi embassy that Gizawi was arrested for possessing 21,380 tablets of Zanak, which is prohibited in the kingdom without medical approval.

The drugs were allegedly hidden in children’s milk cartons and two copies of Koran.

The statement said the Egyptian ambassador in Riyadh had been informed.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, meanwhile, has instructed Cairo’s mission in Saudi Arabia to “urgently contact the Saudi authorities for the release of the Egyptian citizen,” ministry spokesman Amr Roshdi said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has cracked down on any shows of dissent similar to those that led to mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, among other countries in the region.