Saudi Arabia detains founders of new activist party

Sat Feb 19, 2011 3:30pm GMT

* Saudi Arabia detains founders of party, activists say

* Political parties not allowed in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Saudi authorities have detained several activists who tried to set up the kingdom's first political party, human rights activists said on Saturday.

The top oil exporter and U.S. ally is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of public dissent, does not have an elected parliament or any political parties.

Saudi Islamists and opposition activists this month launched a political party called the "Islamic Umma" in a rare challenge to authority inspired by unrest triggering regime change in Tunisia and Egypt.

"There are four in custody now. Five were arrested, two were outside the country and the others were questioned and released," said Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Riyadh-based activist and head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, who has been following the case.

Officials at the General Directorate of Investigations, an investigative arm of the government, could not be immediately reached for comment.

New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded the release of the activists, some of whom have been campaigning for several years for greater political freedom in Saudi Arabia.   Continued...

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