Violent repression of Saudi dissidents threatens international peace and security

Press release
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AFP Nick Paleologos / SOOC

(Paris) FIDH denounces the increasing repression of Saudi political dissidents and number of prisoners by the Ministry of the Interior, under the guidance of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef and the alarming increase in the number of executions in this country since 2013.

On 2 January 2016, 47 men, some of whom were still minors [1] at the time of their arrest, were executed following a trial which did not respect the right to defence, and at which allegations of torture were made. They had been charged, inter alia, with being connected to terrorist acts committed in 2003 and 2004. This was the largest number of executions in Saudi Arabia since 1980. In 2015, 158 prisoners were executed, i.e. 68% more than the preceding year.

One of the main opponents to the regime, the Shia Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr was among those executed on 2 January 2016. He was a minority rights defender of the Shiite and had led the rebellion that has been rampan in Qatif in Saudi’s Eastern Province since 2011.

In addition to the inhumane punishment imposed on individuals accused of being members of the so-called Islamic State or Al-Qaida, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, in the name of fighting terrorists, is carrying out a repression that is unprecedented against demonstrators, human rights defenders, political opponents and the Shiite minority.

Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, dozens of intellectuals, journalists, academics, lawyers and activists who are calling for a reform of the criminal justice system and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, as well as hundreds of Shiite demonstrators who are protesting about the discrimination they suffer, have been arrested by the Ministry of the Interior’s security forces.

The opponents are charged with “Disobedience to the King”, “incitement to sedition”, “insulting the judicial or religious authorities”, “attempts to overthrow the government”, or “creation of a non-authorised organisation” and are then systematically sent before the Specialised Criminal Court, an "anti-terrorist" tribunal which the government set up in 2008 and that is reputed for sentencing dozens of human rights defenders.

This was the procedure used to execute Sheikh Al-Nimr on 2 January 2016, and several other Shiite activists from eastern Saudi Arabia who participated in the demonstrations. The prisoners said that they had been tortured but their allegations were not even briefly investigated.

Similar proceedings were used in September 2014 to sentence Raif Badawi (the blogger who created the website “Free Saudi Liberals”, and who had received the 2015 Sakharov award) to 1,000 lashings and 10 years in prison; in February 2015, to sentence his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair to 15 years in prison; in March 2013, to order the closing of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA)

The Saudi Ministry of the Interior has also violently crushed women’s rights campaigns, especially the “women drivers” movement, through arrests, arbitrary detentions, and travel bans. These measures were inflicted on the well-known activities such as Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, sister of Raif Badawi and wife of Walid Abu al-Khair.

The international community has remained remarkably timid in condemning these grave human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities or in exercising any pressure.

The consequences of repressing the Saudi political dissidents and of exercising violence against the Shiite minority are especially dangerous, because of the growing involvement of the Saudi government in the armed and denominational conflicts that inflame the Middle East and the unconditional support which the western countries give to the Saudi regime as part of the war against terrorism, despite the atrocities committed by the Saudi military forces, e.g. in Yemen. Some of these acts can be considered as war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.

Supporting the Arab world’s non-democratic regimes that make a mockery of international law will not contribute to the fight against terrorism. On the contrary, it maintains the conditions that further inflame the regional crisis where disregard for human rights gives rise to many forms of violence. To lay the basis for an effective, sustainable fight against terror, the Middle East will need to respect the rule of law, ensure equal access to public governance for all, support the civil society and establish inclusive, equal public spaces.

In light of Saudi Arabia’s important strategic role in the region, respect for human, civil and political rights in the country represents a major regional and international challenge.

FIDH wishes to repeat its unconditional opposition to capital punishment, regardless of the crime or the circumstances and urges Saudi authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on all executions.

FIDH urges western countries to predicate the conclusion of new contracts on the strict respect of international law and of individual, civil and political freedoms, and to suspend existing contracts in cases where human rights are being violated by the Saudi government. FIDH calls upon all countries to immediately stop selling weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and not resume sales until an independent, international enquiry has been carried out on methods used in Saudi military operations, in particular, air strikes in Yemen.

It is incumbent on the intergovernmental institutions, in particular the United Nations, to denounce these violations of international law that jeopardise international peace and security.

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