Last updated: 16 March, 2013

Saudi preacher urges reforms to ease tensions in kingdom

A Saudi preacher has appealed for reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom, warning in an open letter posted Saturday on social networks that denial of rights was raising tensions in the country.

“The people have aspirations, demands and rights and they will not stay silent on total or partial confiscation of their rights. When you lose hope, you can do anything,” said Salman al-Auda from Sahwa, a movement close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

He appealed for a series of reforms and “opening of a new horizon” in the kingdom which applies a strict version of Islam.

Auda said the rising tension in Saudi Arabia was the result of “corruption, unemployment, poor housing, weak health and educational services and a lack of political reforms.”

He said “a security solution would only aggravate the situation and block the path to reforms,” adding that “nobody wishes to see a spark transform into a fire that would burn the country”.

The detention of Saudis suspected of extremism would only “increase the bitterness, the desire for revenge and mushrooming of jihadist thinking in prisons,” Auda warned.

He called for the release of rights activists like Mohammed Gahtani and Abdallah al-Hamed jailed for denouncing human rights abuses.

The preacher, whose sermons are popular in religious programmes on televisions, also denounced the “continuing practice of censorship” by the kingdom’s information officials.

Saudi Arabia has remained relatively untouched by the Arab Spring uprisings, but protesters have tried holding demonstrations to demand the release of Islamist prisoners.

An independent Saudi rights organisation says the country has about 30,000 political prisoners, a charge Riyadh denies, saying there are none.