Saudi Arabia: Increased repression has raised serious concerns

Illegal attacks in Yemen and the targeting of dissidents marked 2018
Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salmane have taken a close look at the human rights situation in the country in 2018, following the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the Istanbul Consulate on October 2, Human Rights Watch said today in its 2019 World Report. This attention has shed further light on ongoing violations, including illegal attacks in Yemen that could constitute war crimes for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the increased repression of Saudi dissidents and human rights defenders in their own country.
“Khashoggi’s assassination not only tarnished the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, but also exposed anarchic behaviour on the part of Saudi leaders,” said Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division. “If Saudi Arabia has any hope of repressing its shredded image, the authorities must immediately release all those imprisoned for their peaceful criticism. »
In the 29th edition of its Annual World Report (full version in English 674 pages – abridged version in French 233 pages), Human Rights Watch examines human rights practices in more than 100 countries during 2018. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, states in his introductory essay that populists who spread hatred and intolerance in many countries are facing increasing resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often inspired and joined by civil society organizations and the public, are increasing the price to be paid for abuses committed by autocratic leaders. The success of their efforts illustrates the possibility of defending human rights – and even the responsibility to do so – even in the darkest hours.
As the leader of a coalition that began military operations against the Houthis in Yemen on 26 March 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch documented about 90 clearly illegal coalition attacks on homes, markets, hospitals, schools and mosques. Some of these attacks may constitute war crimes, including one in April on the occasion of a marriage, killing 22 people and injuring more than 50. Another attack in August on a bus killed and injured dozens of children. Saudi commanders are subject to criminal prosecution for war crimes under the chain of command.
On 15 May, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the driving ban for women on 24 June, the authorities began a wave of arrests of prominent women human rights defenders and accused several of them of serious crimes, such as treason, allegedly related to their activism. As of November, at least nine women were still being held without charges, although some women could face prison sentences of up to 20 years. In November, Human Rights Watch received reports that Saudi interrogators tortured at least three women, including with electric shocks and lashes, before forcibly grabbing and kissing them.
Saudi prosecutors have intensified their long-standing campaign against dissidents, calling for the death penalty on charges related to peaceful activism and dissent. In November, those found liable to the death penalty included a prominent cleric, Salman al-Awda, for his alleged links with the Muslim Brotherhood and public support for imprisoned dissidents, as well as Israa al-Ghomgham, a Shia activist from the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, who was charged following his support and participation in demonstrations.
Saudi Arabia does not generally tolerate public religious practices other than Islam. The government systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, including the Twelver Shiites and Ismailis, in particular in the areas of public education, justice, freedom of religion and access to employment.
The discriminatory system of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia remains in place despite government reforms in 2017 prohibiting the imposition of “unofficial” restrictions on male guardianship. Under this system, adult women must obtain prior authorization from a guardian (usually a husband, father, brother or son) to travel, marry or be released from prison.
“The world must seize this opportunity to demand justice for Saudi Arabia’s serious human rights violations and harmful practices, which have culminated over the past year,” Michael Page concluded.

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