Saudi Arabia monarchy should respect the rights of Saudi people to protest peacefully for political reforms and human rights
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): Al Jazeera has reported that the Saudi police opened fire and arrested up to 50 young Saudis during an unprecedented protest as hundreds of people took to the streets in the capital Riyadh yesterday to demand for greater political reforms during the country's first ever human rights conference.
Although the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) wrote off the protest as "a rally by a number of individuals" which "disrupted traffic" in a busy district of the Saudi capital, the demonstration was a rare show of public opposition which came a day after the absolute monarchy announced it would hold its first ever elections to vote for municipal councils.
Al Jazeera reported that some women were seen trying to approach the rally, only to be dispersed by the police. The protesters, mostly under the age of 30, carried banners demanding reforms and the release of political prisoners held in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah Abdul Aziz, the de facto ruler and attending the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit at Putrajaya, should give an assurance that the Saudi monarchy would respect the rights of Saudi people to protest peacefully for political reforms and human rights.
The Saudi announcement of first-ever municipal elections in a year is too tiny a step towards democratization and political reforms in Saudi Arabia in the 21st century, as what is urgently needed are serious and meaningful reforms by Saudi Arabia to become a model of the Islamic world to demonstrate that Islam is compatible with democracy, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of religion and social tolerance.
So far, the OIC Summit and the leaders of its various national delegations have been conspicuously silent on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize 2003 to the first Muslim woman and first Iranian, Shirin Ebadi for her advocacy for democracy, human rights, women’s rights and children’s rights. If this silence is not broken at the OIC Summit proper in the next two days, it will itself by a powerful statement of the distance that has still to be traversed before the OIC Summit and its member nations have anything meaningful to say about democracy and human rights not only in the Muslim world but in the global society as a whole.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman