Saudi Arabia has banned all kinds of rallies and gatherings, as anti-government protests demanding democratic change and the release of political prisoners gain momentum in the monarchy.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry described protests as “illegal” in a Saturday statement and declared that security forces were “authorized by law to take all measures needed against those who try to break the law.”
“Regulations in the kingdom forbid categorically all sorts of demonstrations, marches and sit-ins… as they contradict Islamic Sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society,” SPA state news agency quoted the ministry as saying.
The decision came after anti-government demonstrations were held after the Friday prayers in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and other cities.
Hundreds of Saudi protesters took to the streets in Riyadh, for the first time, to join anti-government protests in other cities in the country, calling for the release of political prisoners.
Protesters gathered in front of Al-Rajhi Mosque in the eastern part of the capital, chanting anti-government and anti-corruption slogans.
Witnesses say Saudi security forces detained at least three people, who had chanted slogans against the Saudi monarchy, in Riyadh.
At the same time, groups of protesters continued their rallies in the towns of al-Hufuf, al-Ahsa, and al-Qatif in the Eastern Province, with demonstrators demanding the release of political prisoners, including a senior Shia cleric.
In al-Hufuf, the peaceful protest rally, which condemned the Saudi government’s detention of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, was held following the Friday prayers.
A similar protest, which was held in al-Qatif, was dispersed by Saudi security forces, witnesses said.
The Shia cleric was arrested on February 25 after delivering a sermon, in which he said that Saudi Arabia should become a constitutional monarchy.
In a move to intensify its crackdown on mass protests planned next week, the Saudi government also has decided to deploy thousands of anti-riot police to northeastern Saudi Arabia.
This comes against the backdrop of growing calls on Internet for a massive anti-government protest expected later in March.
A group of Saudi youths has called for a “Saudi Revolution” on March 20, using Facebook, to demand democratic and political reform in the monarchy.
The Facebook group, which has over 17,000 members, also called for a “Day of Rage” to be held on March 11. Tens of thousands of Saudis have already joined the drive.
Protests and public displays of dissent are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. The government has become increasingly nervous about the protests that have taken the Arab world by storm, toppling the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, and recently reaching Oman, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.