Saudi Arabia: A Closed Letter from Human Rights Organisations to the Saudi Leadership

Urgent Appeal
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Today nine human rights organisations make public a letter sent to the authorities of Saudi Arabia on July 16, 2015 in which they expressed concern regarding the situation of human rights defenders. So far, the authorities have failed to respond to the letter.

His Majesty the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Second Crown Prince, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister

Your majesty and royal highnesses,

We are gravely concerned about the worsening situation of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia as they continue to face severe risks for their peaceful activism. Many of them are still in detention on fabricated charges where they are inadequately protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and subjected to inhumane conditions. The right to freedom of expression is violated, as they are banned from freely expressing their opinions on the Internet or through other media, and face threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and harassment as a result. Both the cyber-crime and counter-terror laws, adopted in 2007 and 2014 respectively, are arbitrarily applied to target peaceful human rights defenders.

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, are writing to ask you during this holy month of Ramadan, that you release all the detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, including Walid Abu Al-Khair, Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Khodr, Raif Badawi, Mohammad Al-Bajadi, Fadel Al-Manasef, Fawzan Al-Harbi, Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Rashudi, Issa Al-Nukheifi and all of their colleagues. This move will constitute a positive step and reassure the international community, as all of these activists have not committed any offense whatsoever and they have simply exercised their right to peaceful and legitimate work in the defense and promotion of human rights.

We are very concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of these human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in the wake of the many documented reports of their ill-treatment and lack of access to necessary health care. We consider that the situation of detained human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is inconsistent with the United Nations provisions set forth in the "Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners."

This should also comprise the right for local human rights organizations to work legally in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals and free from any form of intimidation and harassment. This requires the abolition of all laws that unlawfully limit or restrict freedom of expression through the traditional media or social media networks.

As noted above, the cybercrime and counter-terrorism laws, in particular, have been applied in an arbitrary manner to silence human rights defenders and to unlawfully restrict freedom of expression. While we recognize the rights and duties of all states to fight terrorism, we believe as human rights organizations that it is essential to confront such threats in a manner which respects human rights and complies with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international law. That means that human rights defenders must not be prevented or impeded from exercising their rights and responsibilities to defend human rights. We fear that the absence of a safe and enabling environment for the defense and promotion of human rights, and the repression and imprisonment of human rights defenders, has contributed some to resort to violence. We also strongly believe that a real national dialogue with the entire spectrum of peaceful views in the Kingdom is the safest way to accommodate and contain differences.

Your majesty, you mentioned in your meeting with Saudi Arabian human rights bodies on 22 May 2015, that you are working to "achieve justice, and to ensure freedom of expression, and to address the causes of division and its reasons, and not to discriminate, as there is no difference between a citizen and another, or between one region and another, for sons of the nation are equal in rights and duties." Unfortunately, these words have not yet reflected in practice. We urge you today to ensure that the values and principles you have clearly espoused and called for are upheld in reality.

Finally, we call on you to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of intimidation, including judicial harassment. 

The co-signed organisations:
1. Amnesty International (AI)
2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
3. CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
4. Front Line Defenders (FLD)
5. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
6. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
7. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
8. Reporters without Borders (RSF)
9. World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights

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