Saudi forces say they have cleared almost all of what they call ”criminals and terrorists” from a mostly Shia town in the kingdom’s east.
Thousands of people have had to leave their homes in Awamiya, located in Qatif region of the oil-rich Eastern Province.
Activists from the area say the people have been removed against their will and targeted because they wanted government reforms.
Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that Saudi security forces have completely ”surrounded and sealed off” Awamiya.
The New York-based group said that, based on comparative satellite imagery from February and August, large sections of the town have sustained extensive damage, including to civilian infrastructure.
”Saudi authorities should take immediate steps to allow people to safely return home, allow business and clinics to reopen, and compensate residents for property damage and destruction caused by security forces,” said, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.
Awamiya has seen clashes between protesters and security forces since May, leaving many civilians and police officers dead.
The town was also the hub of a short-lived protest movement in 2011 inspired by the Arab Spring.
One of the movement’s leaders, Shia religious figure Nimr al-Nimr, was executed in January 2016 on ”terrorism charge”.
The Shia community, which makes up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population of 32 million, has long complained of marginalisation.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies