Saudi court sentences professor to five years

Monday, September 20, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A Saudi court sentenced a university professor to five years in prison Sunday on charges of sowing dissent after he compared U.S. killings of Iraqi civilians to Osama bin Laden's terror attacks. Saeed bin Mubarak al-Zaeer, a 57-year-old university professor, was sentenced by the court in the capital Riyadh. The sentencing took place without the presence of an attorney representing al-Zaeer. Al-Zaeer was detained by security forces in April after he appeared on the Al-Jazeera television station and made comments comparing the killing of civilians in terror attacks by bin Laden's al-Qaida group with Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces or Palestinians killed by Israelis.

The professor was detained in April for showing "blatant support and compassion for terrorist acts, and his justification of the deeds of its perpetrators -- in spite of how this goes against Islamic teachings," the Interior Ministry said at the time.

The court convicted Al-Zaeer of "sowing dissent and inciting sedition against the rulers." His sentence begins immediately and time served will be included.

Al-Zaeer's son, Mubarak, was detained in May for appearing on Al-Jazeera to denounce his father's arrest. He was released that same month after signing a statement pledging not to comment to the media.

The kingdom has since launched a high-profile crackdown on terrorists and extremist clerics and repeatedly has warned Saudis not to support terrorists in word or deed.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed several terror attacks in the past year that have killed more than 60 people. Most of the attacks were blamed on bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Al-Zaeer is a professor of mass communications who has called for greater transparency within the closely state-monitored Saudi clergy. He previously spent eight years in jail without charges before being released in March 2003.

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