A Saudi Arabian woman died and dozens more were injured after a protest at a university was stormed by stick-wielding police, London's Times newspaper reported on Friday.
Human Rights Watch's Christoph Wilcke told msnbc.com from Germany that he had read in Arabic-language news reports that hundreds of female students from the Arabic literature and education departments of King Khaled University in the southwest of the country were angry at "harsh" treatment by their supervisors and the fact that trash in their departments was not picked up for three days.
Some reports put the number of protesters at 5,000, said Wilcke, a senior researcher at the organization's Middle East and North Africa division for Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
One protester died in the hospital of an epileptic seizure and another miscarried her unborn child after the demonstration was broken up, the newspaper reported. (The Times operates behind a pay wall).
Videos that Wilcke had seen showed "women shouting, being agitated ... (but) entirely peaceful," he said.
Wilcke estimated that between 50 and 100 members of the religious police were called to the university along with regular police, based on the reports he had seen. Protesters threw shoes as police arrived, the Times reported.
The university promised to investigate the incident, the Times reported.
'Caught up with the world'
While seen by some as a champion of women's rights in the deeply conservative country, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "has not made good on any big hopes concretely" since he came to power in 2005," Wilcke said.
Nevertheless, the demonstration and the fact that it was being reported highlighted the "general evolution of Arab society," Wilcke said. A recent protest at a women's prison went virtually unreported, he said.
"Here something happened and we heard about it," he said. Wilcke added that it was also significant because of the size and the fact that the women demonstrated openly.
"They stood in the blazing sun and decided to chant for a while," he said. "It means that the Saudis have caught up with the world, they are more aware of their rights … (but it) doesn't mean that the government has shifted gear."
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