BURAIDAH (Saudi Arabia) — Saudi Arabia on Thursday accused online activists of using social media to stir up protests, banned in the kingdom, by distributing “false information” about the number of people detained by the security apparatus.
Concern over the fate of security detainees, who the government says are militants, has prompted demonstrations, culminating in the arrest of 161 people at a protest last week in the central city of Buraidah.
The accusation, delivered during a news conference in Buraidah, underscored the government’s concerns over the impact of reports distributed via social media that many long-term detainees have not been brought to trial, and that police treated women protesters disrespectfully.
Last week’s protest was the latest in a string of demonstrations by relatives of detainees in the capital Riyadh and Qassim Province.
In January more than 100 clerics wrote to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, pressing him to address the issue swiftly.
“There are people who misuse the social networking and try to send false information,” Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, the Interior Ministry’s security spokesman, said. “They use (it) to make some families go outside and try to protest, saying you should release our husbands or our fathers or our sons,” he added.
Families of some detainees say their jailed relatives have been held for years without charge or trial, have been mistreated while in detention or continue to be held after their sentences were completed.
Turki said 2,772 people were now held in security prisons. One local human rights activist, whose trial for “electronic crimes” will reach a verdict on Saturday, previously had estimated the figure was as high as 30,000.