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The New Arab

Saudi man imprisoned for helping start political party

The Umma Islamic Party was formed by Islamists and intellectuals in 2011 [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2016

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A Saudi court has sentenced a man to prison for his role in setting up a political party in 2011 - a rare challenge to the country's absolute monarchy.

A man has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for helping set up a political party in Saudi Arabia, which has no elected parliament, and where parties and public dissent are strictly banned.

Local media reported on Tuesday that a court handed down the sentence to the Saudi national, who was not named, for his role in establishing the Umma Islamic Party, which in 2011 had called for an end to absolute monarchy in the country.

The unnamed man was convicted of a long list of charges including, "tearing apart the unity of the nation, inciting protests, seeking help from foreign bodies, illegal fundraising, infringing on the legitimacy of the state, slander, and defending prisoners with views against the law."

The defendant was also found guilty of designing a website for the party and communicating with TV stations.

The judge, however, slashed his sentence by two years because of his poor health and because he had "shown remorse".

The Umma Islamic Party was formed by a group of Islamists and intellectuals in February 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring to call for reform and political representation in the country.

The same month, authorities arrested most of the party's co-founders, who were released later that year after signing pledges they would no longer take part in "anti-government activity".

The party's goals included greater democracy, such as direct elections of parliament and government, independence of the judiciary and the promotion of human rights.

Human Rights Watch at the time condemned the arrests saying: "Saudi suppression of political activity is as swift as it is total."

"At a time when people throughout the Arab world are out on the street seeking greater freedom, the Saudi secret police seem determined to nip any similar demands in the bud."

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