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Saudi group cancels planned sit-in

By Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry, pictured in 2004, has denied a Saudi democratic reform group from staging a sit-in.
The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry, pictured in 2004, has denied a Saudi democratic reform group from staging a sit-in.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association wanted to stage a public sit-in
  • It's the third time the group applied for and was denied a permit for peaceful assembly
  • There are positive signs, though, because the group can still "meet and discuss"

(CNN) -- A Saudi group advocating for democratic reform in Saudi Arabia has announced the cancellation of a planned public sit-in after having been denied a permit for the event by the kingdom's Ministry of Interior.

In an e-mailed statement, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) said that the organizers of the sit-in were summoned on Tuesday to the Interior Ministry.

They "were informed that the sit-in request was refused without providing further legal justification preventing peaceful assemblies and protests."

CNN could not reach Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry for comment. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where protests and gatherings are prohibited.

They talk the talk but they don't walk the walk as far as allowing people to express themselves peacefully.
--Mohammed Al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.
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In a statement dated November 13, ACPRA called on "all Saudis to participate in a public sit-in to demand political reform" on Thursday in the country's capital city of Riyadh.

The purpose of the sit-in was to demand a list of 20 rights, among them "ending princes' privileges," "eradicating bribery and nepotism," "fairness and impartiality of the judiciary," "preventing arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment in prisons," and "transparency, accountability, and control over the national income and how it be spent."

In a separate letter addressed to the kingdom's interior minister, Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the group asked the minister to "provide us the opportunity to peacefully express our demand for political reform, on the basis of the requirements of the allegiance: the stewardship of the nation over the ruler. Because it is the only way to ensure the means to, and the guarantees of, justice and democracy."

The letter detailed how, if permission were granted to stage the sit-in, the attendees would "express their feelings peacefully in a very civilized and polite manner."

Mohammed Al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, told CNN this was the third time his group had applied for and been denied a permit by the kingdom's Interior Ministry to hold a peaceful assembly within the kingdom.

He believes this is in direct violation of Saudi Arabia's membership on the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

"They talk the talk but they don't walk the walk as far as allowing people to express themselves peacefully," said Al-Qahtani when describing the kingdom's stance towards groups asking for political reform.

Al-Qahtani said he's not surprised permission for the sit-in was denied and that he and members of his group had been expecting this outcome.

Al-Qahtani said that even though ACPRA was denied a permit for the planned sit-in, he does see positive signs in all this.

"Given the fact that we have been reiterating the same demands before and that we're still free to meet and discuss all this, it's a good indication of how times have changed for the better," said Al-Qahtani.

He attributed a lot of the newfound tolerance in Saudi Arabia to its ruler, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who is seen by many as a reformer and who has been promoting national and societal dialogue within the kingdom since ascending the throne in 2005.

"If you think about the atmosphere in the country 10 years ago," explained Al-Qahtani, "nobody could have put these demands on the table then -- so now, it seems Saudi Arabia has opened up a bit."