PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to defending writers and freedom of expression around the world, expressed deep disappointment at the announcement that an appeals court has upheld the harsh jail sentences against Saudi poet Ali Al- Domaini and two other reformists accused of petitioning for a constitutional monarchy in the conservative Muslim kingdom. Sheikh Suleiman al-Muhanna, the head of the public court in Riyadh, reportedly made the announcement that the verdict would stand on Saturday.

In May, Al-Domaini was sentenced to nine years in prison while two co-defendants, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh, received seven- and six-year prison terms respectively. The three were convicted of “stirring up sedition and disobeying the ruler.”

Ali Al-Domaini was among thirteen leading intellectuals and peaceful reform advocates who were arrested in March of 2004 for expressing dissatisfaction with the composition of a new government human rights organization and announcing their intentions to set up an independent human rights monitor. Ten of the thirteen were released after signing affidavits renouncing their political activism. Al-Domaini, al-Hamed and al-Faleh refused to sign such declarations, and demanded instead to be tried in open court, a right guaranteed under the Saudi constitution. At first it appeared their request would be granted, but after the first hearing all proceedings were held in secret. In November, a leading human rights attorney representing one of the defendants was arrested for criticizing the closed-door proceedings.

“The convictions of Ali Al-Domaini and his two co-defendants have sent a chill through civil society in Saudi Arabia.” PEN American Center Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems said today in New York. “They are a clear violation of international protections of the right to freedom of expression and send an unmistakable message that Saudi Arabian citizens do not have the essential right to express political dissent. We call on governments around the world to press the Saudi government to reverse these unjust sentences and speed the releases of these three peaceful reform advocates.”

 Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 106