Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked ten questions to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, all of them related to the human rights situation in the Kingdom and Riyadh’s violations against neighbouring countries.
This came in a statement issued by the organisation demanding Bin Salman provide answers to questions related to the war in Yemen, the detention of activists and academics, the arrest of princes and businessmen, forced disappearances, the oppression of women and non-Muslims in the Kingdom. It also demanded Riyadh explain its campaign against oppositionists abroad, the most recent victim of which was journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
HRW’s statement pointed out that the Kingdom’s admission that government representatives killed Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul has provoked an extensive, albeit belated, review of the country’s record of human rights violations. Human Rights Watch also called on foreign government officials to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for this record.
The statement quoted Michael Page, Deputy Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, as saying that:
The brutal assassination of Khashoggi was not only a wrongly-executed mission but a result of Saudi Arabia’s severe neglect of human rights and the thought that the rule of law does not apply to the crown prince and the other leaders of the kingdom
Page added: “The world must seize the opportunity to call for putting an end to Saudi Arabia’s severe human rights violations and harmful practices, some of which have been going on for decades, and ensure justice to their victims.”
The following are the ten questions Human Rights Watch has asked Bin Salman to answer:
- Why is the Saudi-led coalition, which is carrying out military operations in Yemen, still launching illegal attacks and still hesitant to investigate them and provide compensations to civilian victims?
HRW said that the Saudi-led military coalition has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including committing “war crimes,” without conducting purposeful and impartial investigations into these alleged violations.
The organisation accused the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) in Yemen – which the Coalition established in 2016 – of not meeting international standards of transparency, integrity and independence.
- Why has Saudi Arabia been detaining prominent women’s rights activists and when will it release them?
HRW pointed out that in May, as the Saudi authorities were preparing to lift the ban on women’s driving, the government launched a well-planned, widespread oppression campaign against the women’s rights movement. During this campaign Saudi Arabia arrested at least 13 prominent women’s rights activists and accused many of them of serious crimes because of their peaceful activity.
The organisation also criticised the accusations of pro-government media outlets against these activists, in which they described the activists as “traitors”.
- Why is Saudi Arabia targeting dissidents and peaceful activists abroad?
HRW said that the Saudi authorities already have a long history of operations targeting dissidents and activists outside the country before the assassination of Khashoggi.
Human Rights Watch mentioned the arrest of prominent female activist Loujain Al-Hathloul from where she was studying in the UAE. Saudi security officers quickly transferred her to a plane that flew her back to Riyadh and sent her ex-husband Fahad Albutairi home from Jordan in similar circumstances.
The organisation quoted Amnesty International and Saudi activists in Canada and the United Kingdom as further examples, all of whom say that Saudi Arabia has targeted them using malicious spyware.
Saudi authorities also used their influence to force women who fled from their families to return to Saudi Arabia against their will, for example Dina Ali who was sent back home in April 2017 during transit from the Philippines.
- Why have Saudi authorities arrested more than 300 Emirs, businessmen and government officials since November 2017, detaining many at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel without apparent legal procedures?
Human Rights Watch pointed to the more than 381 people who were arrested last year on charges of corruption, including prominent princes, business officials and high-ranking government officials at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
The organisation accused the Saudi authorities of extorting the detainees in exchange for their freedom and denying them the legal measures to exert their right to defend themselves in a proper manner.
According to The New York Times, the Saudi government employed “coercion and ill-treatment to seize billions of dollars”.
- Why does a Saudi woman still need permission from a male relative to obtain a passport or to leave the country?
Human Rights Watch criticised the continued Male Guardianship System which prevents Saudi women from obtaining a passport, getting married, travelling, or leaving prison without the consent of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother or son.
- Why did Saudi Arabia sentence activists such as Raif Badawi, Waleed Abulkhair and Mohammed Al-Qahtani to more than 10 years in prison for their peaceful activism?
The human rights organisation harshly criticised the Saudi state for filing criminal charges against human rights activists on the basis of their peaceful exertion of their right to freedom of expression. HRW considered such actions as a violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under International Human Rights Law.
The human rights body has also condemned the Saudi authorities’ prosecution of all activists associated with the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of the country’s first civil society organisations that calls for broad political reform in relation to the interpretation of Sharia.
- Why does Saudi Arabia sometimes incarcerate criminal suspects in pre-trial detention for months or even years without pressing charges or referring them to court?
The organisation said that Saudi Arabia has been holding thousands of individuals for more than six months – some of them detained for more than a decade – without being referred to the courts for criminal proceedings.
In April, Human Rights Watch analysed information from a public database belonging to the Saudi Ministry of Interior and revealed that the Kingdom’s authorities confined 2,305 persons under investigation for more than six months, without referring them to a judge. The findings also disclosed that 1,875 of the total number of detainees were imprisoned for more than a year, in addition to 251 others who were jailed for more than three years.
- Why does criticising King Salman Bin Abdulaziz or Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman amounts to a terrorist act in Saudi Arabia?
Human Rights Watch stated that Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Terrorism Law – issued last year – contains vague and ambiguous definitions of acts of terrorism. Hence, some of these equivocal interpretations can lead to the death penalty being handed in some cases.
On the other hand, the organisation indicated that this law includes criminal penalties of five to ten years’ imprisonment for portraying the King or Crown Prince, directly or indirectly, “in a manner that offends religion or justice”. Nonetheless, the anti-terrorism legislation criminalises a wide range of peaceful acts which normally cannot be related to terrorism.
- Why does Saudi Arabia execute people for crimes that are not considered the most serious under International Law?
Human Rights Watch pointed out that Saudi Arabia has executed more than 650 people since the beginning of 2014, including 200 executions for non-violent drug crimes. Such death penalties were carried out even though international standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights which has been ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that use capital punishment to employ it only for “the most serious crimes” and in exceptional circumstances.
This year, Saudi authorities began seeking to impose the death penalty on political dissidents during trials that did not include charges of violence. As such, the defendants were accused of supporting protests and being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia allow the public practice of any religion other than Islam and why does it discriminate against the Shia community?
HRW criticised the banning of public practice of religions other than Islam in the Saudi Kingdom and its systematic discrimination against Muslim religious minorities, particularly Shia, the Twelver Shiites and Ismailism. Religious censorship is extended to suppressing the doctrines of such religious sects from formal education and the judicial system, in addition to denying religious minorities their basic right to freedom and employment.
The organisation accused the state’s religious authorities of undermining Shia and Sufi beliefs and interpretations of Islam in public statements and documents.
Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch has illustrated that dozens of Shia Saudis were incarcerated since 2011 simply for participating in protests, demanding full equality and fundamental rights for all Saudis.
It also criticised the Saudi prosecution for recently pressing controversial charges and calling for the execution of five activists, including human rights activist Esraa Al-Ghamgam.
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