THE REAL STORY
So, what's the real story in Saudi Arabia? December brought a report from the human rights group Amnesty International, covered as follows by BBC:
Saudi Arabia accused of repression after Arab Spring
Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of reacting to the Arab Spring by launching a wave of repression. In a report, the human rights group said hundreds of people had been arrested, many of them without charge or trial.
Prominent reformists had been given long sentences following trials Amnesty called "grossly unfair". So far unrest has largely been confined to the Shia minority in the east of the country.
...In its 73-page report published on Thursday, Amnesty accuses the Saudi authorities of arresting hundreds of people for demanding political and social reforms or for calling for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial.
The report says that since February, when sporadic demonstrations began -- in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests -- the Saudi government has carried out a crackdown...
Since March, more than 300 people who took part in peaceful protests in Qatif, Ahsa and Awwamiya in the east have been detained, Amnesty says. Most have been released, often after promising not to protest again. Many face travel bans.
Last week 16 men, including nine prominent reformists, were given sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison. Amnesty said they were blindfolded and handcuffed during their trial, while their lawyer was not allowed to enter the court for the first three sessions.
"Peaceful protesters and supporters of political reform in the country have been targeted for arrest in an attempt to stamp out the kinds of call for reform that have echoed across the region," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.
Amnesty says that the government continues to detain thousands of people on terrorism-related grounds. Torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread, it says -- an allegation Saudi Arabia has always denied.