A Prisoner Swap in Saudi Arabia

January 31, 2012

2010 SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images

‘If you don’t, we won’t either.’

That’s the agreement the Saudi and Iraqi government found on the matter of executing prisoners each is holding from the other country.

Arab News reported Friday that government officials of both countries came to a consent, at least in principle, to put executions of Saudi and Iraqi prisoners on death row on hold. This ‘in principle’ agreement reportedly will last two months until a final agreement to swap prisoners is reached. Currently, there are 138 Iraqi nationals imprisoned in the Saudi Kingdom, most of whom were charged with involvement in terrorist operations.  Eleven Iraqis were sentenced to death.

The news of Friday’s ‘in principle’ agreement to put executions on hold until any further consent has been reached to swap prisoners, may appear as a step forward toward decreasing the shockingly accumulating numbers of executions posed on prisoners in the Kingdom. However, in reality it’s only a band-aid solution to a larger problem: Since March 2011, the Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a new wave of repression in the name of security, including attacks on political opponents, religious minorities and even foreign nationals.

Sentences based upon alleged terrorist affiliation are common in Saudi Arabia. The country is in the process of passing a new anti-terror law that provides for the prosecution of acts of peaceful dissent as ‘terrorist crimes’ such as ‘harming the reputation of the state or its position.’ If the law is passed as written, questioning the integrity of the king or the crown prince would be punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison.

The human rights threats of the new anti-terror law are vast according to the Amnesty International report, ‘Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security’, published last month. The vague and broad definition of terrorism offenses, the unlawful restrictions of freedom of expression, as well as the violations of rights of detainees are just a few of many key parts of the new law that pose tremendous threats to human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The prisoner swap with Iraq is good news, but it’s not enough.  The Saudi government must radically amend the anti-terror law draft to bring it into line with international human rights law and standards and fair treatment for foreign nationals within its border.

During last month’s Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign, we focused on a Sudanese man, Hamad al-Neyl Abu Kassawy, who has been held in Saudi Arabia without charge or trial since 2004.

To take action on his case, click here.

Lara Zuzan Golesorkhi, Saudi Arabia country specialist for AIUSA, contributed to this article.