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By Sue Lloyd
BBC Newsnight, Saudi Arabia
I took a taxi from our hotel at midnight on Thursday
to find police cars with their lights flashing parked at five-metre
intervals along all the main streets in Riyadh.
Policemen standing guard outside a
mosque in the capital today
I was pulled over by the police for merely filming on my
On Friday, the city woke up to the sight of more police
on the streets than people, and the atmosphere was tense.
The anti-government "day of rage" rallies calling for
democratic reforms - not revolution - in this oil-rich kingdom were
supposed to start after midday prayers, but people stayed away.
It was hardly surprising, given that over the past few
days there had been warnings in the newspapers of the punishments
demonstrators could expect - lashings and imprisonment.
And then there is the surveillance and intimidation.
Yet demonstrations have been gathering momentum
throughout Saudi Arabia. It was reported that police opened fire on
protests in the eastern provinces - home to the Shia minority - on
We went to the eastern town of Dammam to meet the
families of political prisoners - some of whom have been held without
trial for up to 16 years.
Opposition activists say there are some 30,000 political
prisoners in Saudi Arabia, the government puts the figure at one third
We didn't know we were being followed by the security
forces, and after we had finished filming we were arrested and our
tapes taken from us.
The message is clear - people should not protest, and if
they do, journalists should not report it.
On Friday, I was due to meet one of the demonstration
organisers who said he would accompany me to see the protests. But an
hour before the rally was due to begin, I received a text message.
"My emails and mobile phone are being monitored. I
cannot meet you. I am sorry. This is a sad day for Saudi Arabia."
Demonstrations are illegal in the autocratic kingdom of
Saudi Arabia, a country with no legal political parties or mass
movements that has been governed by the House of Saud for 80 years.
The government claims people have no need to demonstrate
because they have a method of government that works.
But one opposition spokesman described his country to me
as "a police state masquerading as a theocracy".
We journalists were herded into buses on Friday and
taken to see the "day of rage" non-event.
Helicopters hovered overhead, there were road blocks and
cars being searched, hundreds of police cars and thousands of police -
but not a demonstrator in sight.
Suddenly, as we were all getting bored of filming each
other, a solitary man in his 40s, dressed in casual Western-style
t-shirt and jeans approached us.
"We want freedom. We want democracy," he shouted.
"Why are you saying this, in front of all the police?" I
"I shall go to jail, I know," he replied, shaking with
nerves and frustration.
"But the whole country is a jail. I had to speak out."
Within a few minutes, the man was surrounded by a dozen
or more journalists, he was the only one in Riyadh on Friday giving a
There were so many of us there that there was nothing
the police could do except speak nervously into their mobile phones and
then shepherd us all back into our buses.
But I refused to go and accompanied the man to his car.
I asked for his phone number and shall call him at home
- but I don't expect him to answer.