The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has steadily deteriorated over the year since blogger Raif Badawi was publicly flogged for exercising his right to free expression, said Amnesty International the day before the first anniversary of the flogging.
The past year has seen the kingdom’s human rights record go from bad to worse. Most recently the mass execution of 47 people in a single day, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, sent shockwaves across the region.
“For a year, Raif’s family has lived in continued dread of the possibility of his next flogging. It is time for the Saudi Arabian authorities to end their long nightmare by freeing Raif,” said Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner for Amnesty International USA.
“Like so many other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia, Raif has committed no crime. The cruel sentences imposed on human rights defenders and others who raise their voices in dissent are a grave affront to human rights. It is long past time for the United States, a strategic ally of the Saudi monarchy, to stop looking the other way while the authorities continue their campaign of violence and oppression. The cost of silence for the sake of the so-called war on terror is ultimately human life, human dignity and justice.”
Despite the much hailed participation of women in municipal elections last month, Saudi Arabia continued its sweeping crackdown on human rights activists and led a devastating air bombardment campaign in Yemen that saw the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.
“A year after the international outcry over his public flogging, Raif Badawi and dozens of prisoners of conscience remain in prison and at risk of suffering cruel punishments and ill-treatment for their peaceful activism,” said James Lynch, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
“More and more human rights defenders are being sentenced to years in prison under Saudi Arabia’s 2014 counter-terror law, while its allies shamelessly back the kingdom’s repression in the name of the so-called ‘war on terror.’”
Among the many people imprisoned is Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, the first human rights defender to be sentenced under Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror law in force since February 2014, after an unfair trial. Dozens more were jailed under the law in 2015, including human rights defenders Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder and Dr Abdulrahman al-Hamid, both founding members of the now disbanded independent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), also after unfair trials.
Saudi Arabia continues to ban independent human rights associations and imprison its founding members, with lengthy prison terms for forming “unlicensed organizations." All public gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, remain prohibited under an order issued by the Ministry of Interior in 2011.
Meanwhile, the authorities have used the 2014 counter-terror law and the Kingdom’s notorious “counter-terror” court, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), to systematically clamp down on all forms of activism, including by sentencing to death and executing Shi’a Muslim activists after grossly unfair trials, such as prominent Shi’a Muslim cleric and vocal critic of the Saudi Arabian government, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr who was executed with three other Shia Muslim activists on January 2.
Ali al-Nimr, the nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and other Shi’a activists Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher were all under the age of 18 when they were arrested. All three have had grossly unfair trials and were sentenced to death based solely on ‘confessions’ they claim were extracted under torture. The court has refused to investigate their allegations of torture.
“A bloody crackdown on all forms of dissent has seen the authorities uphold death sentences imposed on three alleged juvenile offenders, in egregious violation of international law and based on no evidence other than ‘confessions’ all three activists have said they were tortured to make,” said James Lynch.
“This is at a time when Saudi Arabia has stepped up its horrendous execution spree with at least 151 people executed between January and November 2015 – the highest toll since 1995. Close to half of those executed were for crimes that should not, according to international law, be punishable by death.”
Saudi Arabia has also led a military coalition which, since March 2015, has carried out thousands of air strikes in areas of Yemen controlled by the Huthi armed group. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the air strikes, which have also struck civilian infrastructure including health facilities, schools, factories, power facilities, bridges and roads. Amnesty International has found that such strikes have been frequently disproportionate or indiscriminate and in some instances they appear to have directly targeted civilians or civilian objects.
Some of the weapons used by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen which have hit civilian targets, were produced and/or designed in the US and UK. The UK and US governments are also providing logistical support and intelligence to the coalition.
“Saudi Arabia’s allies like the USA and UK should be using their close relationships to press the government, including publicly, to improve its human rights record and to comply with international law in its Yemen campaign. Their silence, as they continue to supply Saudi Arabia with deadly arms, is simply not tenable,” said Lynch.
A security officer administered 50 lashes with a cane on Raif Badawi in a public square in Jeddah on January 9, 2015. The 50 lashes were part of the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison handed down by a court in May 2014 for setting up an online forum for public debate and for “insulting Islam."
Further floggings were delayed, initially due to medical concerns and since then for unknown reasons.
More than a million messages have been sent in support of jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi since Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign raised his case in 2014. In 2015 the campaign highlighted the plight of his lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair.