A Saudi court has sentenced Khaled al-Johani to 18 months in prison for protesting against the regime. His troubles started two years ago when Saudi activists inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had planned a ‘Day of Rage’.
Fearing a popular revolt, the government instructed mosques across the country to warn their congregations against protesting. They also exploited Saudi’s still powerful tribal structure to ensure the incipient rebel movement was undermined. On the day, as police, Special Forces, and intelligence officers swarmed the area no one turned up – except Johani.
Johani then launched a one man protest and denounced the government to an assembled scrum of journalists. He bemoaned the lack of freedom, democracy, and social support. His son suffers from autism and can’t find a school that will take him. Johani predicted he would be arrested shortly after the protest (he was right), being held incommunicado for several months as if the Saudi state was deliberately trying to prove the very injustices against which he was protesting.
Although Johani was released last year, the Saudi government remains extremely nervous about stability inside the kingdom. In its Eastern province of Qatif where a large number of Shia Muslims are based, a steady stream of protest has been suppressed but the government remains paranoid about the prospect of rebellious sentiments spreading. Johani’s sentencing earlier this week not only reminds potential critics that dissent remains a crime, but also reveals just how febrile the atmosphere within Saudi Arabia remains.
Johani’s quite remarkable one-man protest (with English subtitles) can be viewed here: