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Media rights group condemns Saudi activist's arrest

Written by: Staff
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RIYADH, Mar 16 (Reuters) Media rights group Reporters Without Borders today called on Saudi Arabia to release an Islamist activist arrested last week after criticising a government minister in an Internet article.

Mohsen al-Awajy has been in custody since Friday after writing an article which said a liberal clique of ministers and officials had become the real power behind the scenes with a direct line to King Abdullah.

''We firmly condemn the continuing detention of Mohsen al-Awajy, who was arrested on 10 March for publishing articles criticising the Saudi government on the Wasatyah.com Web site,'' the group said in a letter addressed to the king which was also signed by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

''We therefore ask you to intervene to obtain the release of Awajy, who in our opinion is being held arbitrarily,'' it added, accusing the authorities of blocking a number of Web sites, including Elaph.com which is popular throughout the Arab world.

The sites have carried discussions and stories about Awajy's article, which accused Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi of currying favour with the royal court.

Analysts often say it is difficult to discern power shifts within the secretive ruling family.

Direct criticism of the ruling family is a red line for the media in Saudi Arabia, which has opened up to a vigorous debate on political and economic reforms unimaginable a decade ago.

Along with dozens of other clerics and writers, Awajy was detained for four years in the 1990s over calls for democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy, which is also a key US ally.

King Abdullah, who has said he supports cautious reforms, pardoned some jailed activists when he came to power last August.

REUTERS OM KP2155

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