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UN highlights Saudi Arabia's appalling record on detention of peaceful activists

A UN Working Group has determined that the Saudi Arabian authorities have arbitrarily detained nine peaceful activists in blatant violation of international law, in an Opinion that sets out damning evidence of Saudi Arabia’s utter disregard for human rights, said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty has repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release of all nine activists, whom it considers prisoners of conscience. They include six founding members of a key human rights organisation, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), as well as the imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Fadhel al-Manasif of the now disbanded Adala Center for Human Rights.

Saudi Arabia’s authorities have pursued a vicious crackdown on peaceful activists in what the Working Group calls “a reprisal for their work of protecting and defending human rights” and “grave and systematic violations of the norms related to the right to fair trial.”

The Opinion adopted by the Working Group found that all nine activists were arbitrarily detained and deprived of liberty in contravention of several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These articles set out the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the right to fair trial, and the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly and association. This conclusion is particularly alarming given Saudi Arabia’s commitments as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to uphold the highest standards of human rights.

James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said:

“The UN Working Group’s Opinion leaves no shred of doubt - the Saudi Arabian authorities are consistently abusing the country’s vague laws to deprive human rights defenders and others of their liberty, and deny them their basic right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

“As a member of the UN Human Rights Council Saudi Arabia purports to uphold and respect the highest standards of human rights, yet this UN decision provides damning proof of their contempt for human rights and for human rights activism. It also shatters the illusion that they have anything more than the scantest respect for international human rights law and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

“Instead of punishing human rights defenders and silencing bloggers and lawyers, Saudi Arabia’s authorities should seek to address the yawning gulf between its dire human rights record and its responsibilities as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.”

The Working Group called upon the Saudi Arabian authorities “without delay, to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation”, namely “the immediate release of the detainees and the provision of the reparation for the harm caused by the grievances.”

The Working Group also urged the Saudi Arabian authorities to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The nine activists arbitrarily detained include:

·        Six ACPRA members: Sheikh Sulaiman al-Rashudi, an 80-year-old former judge serving a 15-year sentence, Dr Abdullah al Hamid and Dr Mohamed Qahtani, who have been serving respectively an 11 and 10 years prison sentence since 2013, Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder currently serving a 10-year prison sentence as well as Mohammed al-Bajadi and Omar al-Sa’id who were all recently resentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court under the 2014 counter-terror law.

·        Raif Badawi the blogger sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes simply for writings deemed “insulting to Islam” and setting up a website encouraging public debate. His flogging in January 2015 sparked a global outcry.

·        Waleed Abu al-Khair, one of the cases featured in Amnesty International’s 2015 Write for Rights campaign, a human rights defender and a lawyer who has tirelessly defended many peaceful activists and victims of human rights violations before being convicted under the counter-terrorism law. He has been jailed for 15 years on a string of ludicrous charges including “disobeying the ruler”, “insulting the judiciary”, and “harming the reputation of the state by communicating with international organisations”.

·        Saudi Arabian human rights activist Fadhel al-Manasif, who is well known for speaking out about discrimination against the Kingdom’s Shi’a minority, is serving a 14-year sentence, to be followed by a 15-year travel ban after being convicted by the notorious counter terrorism court.  His charges include “breaking allegiance to the ruler and “founding a banned association” as well as others linked to national security.

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