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HRW accuses Saudi Arabia of repression despite reforms

Mohammad Bin Salman Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [File photo]
Mohammad Bin Salman Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [File photo]

Campaign group Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of violating international humanitarian law in Yemen and of stepping up arrests and prosecutions of activists seeking reform or voicing peaceful dissent.

In its World Report 2018, which reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries, the rights group reported it had documented 87 unlawful attacks by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, leading to nearly 1,000 civilian deaths.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government, backed by the coalition and supported by the United States and Britain, is trying to roll back the Iran-aligned Houthi group which controls most of northern Yemen.

The coalition has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and says its attacks are directed against its Houthi foes, not civilians.

Read: Saudi strikes kill 136 civilians in Yemen, UN says

The government’s communications office did not have an immediate comment on the report when contacted by Reuters.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has rocketed to the pinnacle of power in the kingdom, pushing a reform agenda called Vision 2030 aimed at weaning the country off oil and introducing social changes.

Last week, women were allowed to attend a men’s soccer match in stadiums for the first time. Women-focused motorshows opened in Jeddah and Riyadh this week. A decades-long ban on screening films was lifted in the conservative kingdom this week.

Meanwhile, the New York-based group said, more than a dozen prominent political activists convicted on “vague charges arising from their peaceful activities” were serving lengthy prison sentences.

Read: Saudi arrests army officers in anti-corruption purge

“Mohammad bin Salman’s well-funded image as a reformist falls flat in the face of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe and scores of activists and political dissidents languishing in Saudi prisons on spurious charges,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Baby steps on women’s rights reforms don’t paper over Saudi Arabia’s systemic abuses.”

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