Saudi dissidents pardoned

Three Saudi liberal democrats– sentenced in May to lengthy prison stays after circulating a petition calling for a peaceful transition to constitutional democracy– have been pardoned along with their attorney by the new King Abdullah.

The 18-month imprisonment of the four men — two university scholars, a poet and their attorney — had galvanized protests from international human rights groups and prompted a rare public rebuke of Saudi Arabia’s autocratic political system from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It’s good news, of course, but it hardly represents a fundamental change in the regime’s repressive approach to dissent– any more than the Castro regime’s periodic release of jailed dissidents represents a new birth of freedom in Cuba.

As Saudi lawyer Bassim Alim noted, the pardon “suggests they did something wrong in the first place.” He pointed out that “the issues of due process were completely circumvented” because there was no retrial or precedent established in Saudi courts.