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RIC Query - Saudi Arabia (16 June 2004)

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Saudi Arabia



Response to Information Request Number:SAU04001.NSLD
Date:June 16, 2004
Subject:Saudi Arabia: Information on the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR)
From:USCIS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Saudi Arabia / Arbitrary detention / Dissidents / Family members / Freedom of association / Freedom of political opinion / Opposition leaders / Political prisoners / Terrorism




Provide information on the Saudi opposition group the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR).


According to the U.S. Department of State human rights report on Saudi Arabia for 1997, "[t]he Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, an opposition group, was established in 1993. The Government [of Saudi Arabia] acted almost immediately to repress it" (U.S. DOS 30 Jan 1998).

Human Rights Watch reported in 2001 that at the time of the CDLR's founding, supporters were arrested, and "other supporters, including some sixty university professors, were either dismissed from their government jobs, banned from traveling, or both" (HRW Dec 2001).

"In 1994, one of CDLR's founding members, Mohammed al-Masari [al-Massa'ri, al-Massari, al-Mas'ari], fled to the United Kingdom, where he sought political asylum and established an overseas branch of the CDLR..." (U.S. DOS 30 Jan 1998).

In a 2000 report on political opposition in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International reported that repression of Shi'a political opposition lessened in the 1990s, although "[s]ecurity forces then increasingly targeted those suspected of having links with the Sunni Islamist opposition" (AI 27 Mar 2000). Victims of this targeting included "members of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR)" (AI 27 Mar 2000).

Amnesty also reported that the Saudi government "vent[ed] its anger on [Mohammed al-Masari's] family" by detaining his son in 1994 for eight months and in 1996 for five months, and also by detaining Mohammed al-Masari's sister for about a week in 1998, both allegedly due only to their kinship ties to the CDLR founder (AI 27 Mar 2000).

According to Human Rights Watch, the confessions of four persons executed in 1996 for the November 1995 bombing of the Saudi National Guard facility in Riyadh were "almost identical, and all implicated Dr. Muhammad al-Mas'ari of the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR)... The government executed the four, supposedly after a trial, on May 31 [1996]. Those doubting the authenticity of the confessions tended to view the implication of al-Mas'ari in the Riyadh attack as one of a series of Saudi government efforts to discredit and suppress him and the CDLR" (HRW 1997). An April 1996 MIDEAST MIRROR (London) article includes a statement by al-Masari to Reuters that neither he nor CDLRR had influenced the attackers and that the Saudi authorities had "spiced up" the confessions (MIDEAST MIRROR 23 Apr 1996).

Human Rights Watch also reported that after the Riyadh bombing, the Saudi government attempted to "pressure the U.K. to deport [al-Mas'ari]..., [and] according to the CDLR, on August 25 and 28 [1996] Saudi authorities arrested five of al-Mas'ari's close relatives living in Saudi Arabia, and had not released them by early October [1996]" (HRW 1997).

Amnesty International's 2000 report on treatment of the political opposition in Saudi Arabia states: "The pattern that has emerged over the years is that the few political dissidents who do end up in court receive harsh sentences, sometimes including corporal punishments" (AI 27 Mar 2000). In 1995, "a group of political prisoners [was] convicted [in "secret" trials] of offences which included having links with the CDLR" (AI 27 Mar 2000). At least one of these dissidents was executed (AI 27 Mar 2000).

The U.S. Department of State's annual report on human rights developments in Saudi Arabia for 2002 stated that the Saudi government continued to "repress" the CDLR, but did not provide details (U.S. DOS 31 Mar 2003).

According to a U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research representative interviewed by the RIC, publicly the CDLR spoke the language of human rights and democratization in Saudi Arabia to its English-speaking audience (e.g., Western governments and press), while calling for the establishment of a more traditional Islamic state in Saudi Arabia to its Arab-speaking audience. The CDLR has a very small membership, and at one time essentially was a one-man show operated by Mohammed al-Masari. The CDLR continues to send out press releases from its London office, although it has taken on more of a pan-Islamic as opposed to a Saudi-focused agenda (U.S. DOS/INR 16 Jun 2004).

The U.S. Department of State human rights report on Saudi Arabia for 1997 states that "[i]n 1996 internal divisions within the CDLR spawned the rival [Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA)], headed by Sa'ad al-Faqih" (U.S. DOS 30 Jan 1998). According to Agence France Presse, al-Faqih has "become the most outspoken Saudi Islamist dissident in exile" (AFP 4 May 2004).

A June 2001 review of the book HOLIER THAN THOU: SAUDI ARABIA'S ISLAMIC OPPOSITION, published in 2000 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, cites the book's author as attributing the al-Faqih/al-Masari split to "['s] involvement with extremist Islamist groups from other countries" and states that "Al-Faqih...sought to depict a more reasonable image than did the CDLR" (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

The U.S. Department of State representative interviewed by the RIC said that "it is unclear if the CDLR maintains further contact with the founding members [of CDLR] who remained in Saudi Arabia. Sa'ad al-Faqih's MIRA claims to now represent these members" (U.S. DOS/INR 15 Jun 2004).

The book review also cites the book's author as stating: "In Arabic and English publications, the CDLR concentrated on alleged corruption within the royal family and failings of the establishment ulema [experts in Sharia law]. The CDLR did not espouse violence against the regime but hinted that violence might occur if its demands were not met" (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

The review also cites the book's author as stating: "Muhammad al-Masari, a Western-educated former physics lecturer at King Saud University..., courted the Western press and sought to convey the image of the CDLR as a human-rights organization and as enlightened reformers. In making his group attractive to Western media, al-Masari hoped to enlist sympathy for the CDLR in Europe and the United States and thereby generate Western pressure on the Saudi leadership to accommodate the radicals' demands. [T]hese demands were not made out of a commitment to democratic values. Instead, the radicals were demanding that the Al Saud [Saudi royal family] share power with the ulema, that they apply Islamic law more strictly, and that they adopt 'Islamic' views on foreign policy" (Wrampelmeier Jun 2001).

On 4 May 2004, the TIMES (London) reported that the attack several days prior on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia in which five Westerners were killed was carried out by former CDLR member Mustafa Abdel-Qader Abed al-Ansari, his brother, and two nephews¿ all of whom, including al-Ansari, were killed by Saudi security forces following the attack (Booth 4 May 2004). Soon after the attack, Agence France Presse quoted a Saudi government official as stating: "Al-Ansari '...last left [Saudi Arabia] (around 10 years ago), ...joined one Saad al-Faqih and one Mohammad al-Massaari..., and worked with them in their suspicious committee' " (AFP 4 May 2004). The article states this is "a reference to the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) formed by the two men [al-Faqih and al-Masari] in 1993" (AFP 4 May 2004). The article goes further to say that "[t]he [Saudi] interior ministry did not explicitly accuse exiled dissidents of being behind the attack in the industrial Red Sea city, which sent shockwaves through the Western expatriate community in the oil-rich kingdom, [b]ut it marked a departure from Riyadh's customary more general references to a 'deviant group' behind a series of terror strikes which began a year ago with the bombing of three residential compounds in the Saudi capital" (AFP 4 May 2004). The same article reports al-Faqih's denial of any MIRA involvement in the attack (AFP 4 May 2004).

The press release from a March 2004 BBC radio interview with al-Masari indicates al-Masari told the BBC interviewer that assassinating British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be "legitimate" since Prime Minister Blair commands the British army, which is currently deployed in Iraq. The press release also states that "[i]n the wake of 9/11 Al Massari confirmed he had helped Osama Bin Laden establish an office in London in 1994" and that al-Masari uses the CDLR web-site "to justify violent attacks" (BBC 7 Mar 2004).

A January 2003 ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH article links the CDLR to a satellite phone used by Osama bin Laden to orchestrate the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. According to the article, the phone allegedly was purchased in 1996 by a Kuwaiti native living in the U.S. who then allegedly sold the phone to the CDLR in London. The article does not indicate how the phone may have passed from the CDLR to Osama bin Laden (Branch-Brioso, Shinkle 20 Jan 2003).

An October 2002 Australian press report states that a suspected al Qaeda member, who had been wanted by Saudi security forces "for belonging to the London-based militant Islamic group, the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR) whose leader, Professor Muhammad Al-Massari, publicly endorsed the political aims of bin Laden," was deported from Australia (Skelton 29 Oct 2002).

A December 2001 LOS ANGELES TIMES article portrays the CDLR as a "moderate" group consisting of "fundamentalist Muslims...who want a peaceful change in government and the introduction of an Islamic democracy with broader rights and greater equality (except for women). [CDLR members] believe this can come about through popular pressure on the royal family to change its ways and relinquish its monopoly on power" (Aburish 16 Dec 2001).

According to the U.S. Department of State's report on human rights in Saudi Arabia in 1997, "Al-Masari expressed the CDLR's 'understanding' of two fatal terrorist bombings of American military facilities in 1995 and 1996 and sympathy for the perpetrators" (U.S. DOS 30 Jan 1998).

The CDLR is not listed on any of the U.S. government's public terrorist lists including the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, the Terrorist Exclusion List, and the Terrorist Financing List.

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Aburish, Said K. LOS ANGELES TIMES, "Coming Change Bodes Ill" (16 Dec 2001), NEXIS.

Agence France Presse (AFP). "Saudi Dissident Group Denies Involvement in Yanbu Attack" (4 May 2004), NEXIS.

Amnesty International (AI). SAUDI ARABIA: A SECRET STATE OF SUFFERING (27 Mar 2000), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

BBC. "London Man Who Helped Bin Laden Justifies the Killing of Tony Blair, the Radio Five Live Report Reveals" (7 Mar 2004), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

Booth, Jenny. TIMES (London), "London Link to Saudi Massacre" (4 May 2004),,,1-1097973,00.html [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

Branch-Brioso, Karen and Peter Shinkle. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, "Dead or Alive, Fund-Raiser Draws Interest of Federal Authorities; Kuwaiti Native Also Bought Satellite Phone That Ended Up in bin Laden's Hands" (20 Jan 2003), NEXIS.

Human Rights Watch (HRW). HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA: A DEAFENING SILENCE (Dec 2001), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). WORLD REPORT 1996, "Saudi Arabia" (1997), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

MIDEAST MIRROR. "Four Saudis Confess to Riyadh Bombing, Say They Were Influenced by Massa'ri and Bin-Laden" (23 Apr 1996), NEXIS.

Skelton, Russell. THE AGE (Melbourne, Australia), "Terror 'Frontman' Expelled" (29 Oct 2002), NEXIS.

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS/INR). Telephone interview with Saudi Arabia expert at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Washington, DC: 15 Jun 2004).

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2002, "Saudi Arabia" (31 Mar 2003), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 1997, "Saudi Arabia" (30 Jan 1998), [Accessed 15 Jun 2004]


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