Masari tells of torture in Saudi jail

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

The Saudi dissident, Mohamed al-Masari, yesterday described how he was tortured during six months detention in the kingdom. Listing fellow dissidents and others who he alleged had been killed or tortured abroad at the behest of the Saudi authorities, he said he still feared for his safety.

Giving evidence at his appeal in London against the Government's plans to send him to the Caribbean island of Dominica, Dr Masari said that in 1993 within days of launching a republican movement, fiercely opposed to the Saudi regime, he was arrested, thrown into jail and abused. He was beaten with a bamboo cane on his back and the soles of his feet, punched, spat upon and deprived of sleep. His every movement was monitored by cameras and lights burnt in his cell for 24 hours a day.

The most savage attacks came on about three or four occasions, he said. "Four officers would come and lay me on my back, two will lift the feet, the soles were exposed and a third officer would beat on both soles, usually stopping before bleeding. The fourth officer stands there urging them on or telling them when to stop."

On another occasion, he said he was "punched around" by security officers, leaving him in severe pain in his side for two months. "There was no medical attention and I was not X-rayed. I am sure my ribs were broken, but I have no proof," he said. When he was eventually released after being forced to "recant", he fled Saudi Arabia via Yemen, where he obtained a false passport and came to the United Kingdom claiming asylum.

The British government has never considered his claim for refuge status, instead it decided earlier this year to send him to Dominica.

Home Office ministers have acknowledged that the deportation order was influenced by the need to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia. His activities against his home country since arriving in Britain have infuriated the Saudi Royal family, who have threatened to withhold lucrative business contracts. Britain stands to benefit by up to pounds 20bn from the

Al-Yamamah arms deal and British companies are major investors in the desert kingdom.

The Government maintains that Dominica is a suitable safe haven. But yesterday Dr Masari said he would not feel safe on the island. He told the hearing of the death or abduction of seven people, alleging the Saudi authorities were implicated. They included Saleem Alloosi, allegedly tortured to death in Beirut in 1980; Nassir al-Saeed, allegedly kidnapped in Beirut and either tortured or killed; Shamsuddeen al-Fassi, killed in 1983 and his son Mohammed, an Iraqi journalist.

But yesterday Stephen Richards, for the Home Office, produced two books alleging Syria was behind Mr Alloosi's death and the rest of the allegations about assassinations and abductions were based on material gleaned from books and newspaper articles. He said: "It's a miscellany of rumour and speculation - speculative, unsourced, unproven."

Asked why he would feel safer in the UK than in Dominica, Dr Masari said: "The intelligence organisations here - special branch, MI5, MI6 and the ordinary police are sophisticated, well trained, and well informed. There is a certain protection which is not existent in Dominica."

The hearing continues on Monday.