Saudi reformers still barred from foreign travel

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RIYADH, Nov 11 (Reuters) A group of Saudi reformers recently detained over calls for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia are still banned from travelling abroad, one of the group said today.

''Since our release we've been trying peacefully and quietly to solve the issue of travel with the Ministry of Interior ... The result so far is a rather deaf ear,'' said the statement, signed by politics professor Matruk al-Faleh.

''Such an act contradicts and violates the essence of Islam as well as all international and regional conventions on human rights,'' it added, citing the cases of 13 reformers arrested in 2004 and 2005.

It said the ministry continued to prevent any of the group from travelling outside Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, which maintains close links with Washington.

''There are dozens of Saudis currently banned from travelling abroad, but a problem we have in Saudi Arabia is that many people don't say so, so no one knows about it,'' Faleh told Reuters.

Faleh was one of three academics who were given prison sentences ranging from six to nine years in May 2005 for calling for political reforms.

They were pardoned by King Abdullah -- seen as sympathetic to reformers -- after he ascended the throne in August 2005.

The ministry was unavailable for comment.

''All the Saudi reformers have called for is a limited constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, roughly speaking parallel to that in Bahrain, Jordan or to some extent Morocco,'' said the statement, dated November. 6.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where clerics oversee the application of Islamic law with support from the royal family. The government is advised by an unelected assembly of notables chosen by the king.

There are no political parties, but limited elections to local councils were introduced in 2005 in response to calls for reform at home and abroad as other Gulf Arab countries moved to improve their democratic credentials.


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