• Press Release

Secretary Tillerson Visit to Gulf Must Not Greenlight More Abuses Against Human Rights Defenders

July 12, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - APRIL 06: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with the media after he greeted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Palm Beach International Airport on April 6, 2017 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Mr. Tilleson spoke about several topics including the upcoming meetings with China and the ongoing conflict in Syria. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Today, Secretary Tillerson is meeting with senior foreign officials in Saudi Arabia. This is the latest leg of a week-long tour of the Gulf, and the meeting will also include officials from Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Tillerson is expected to discuss counterterrorism and security efforts. Amnesty International USA senior director of campaigns, Naureen Shah, issued this statement:

“While Secretary Tillerson holds talks with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, human rights defenders are in prison and face torture for speaking out against horrific abuses in the region,” said Naureen Shah, senior director of campaigns at Amnesty International USA. “Tillerson should condemn the persecution of peaceful dissidents, many who are facing bogus national security charges. Otherwise, Tillerson risks giving Gulf governments a green light to continue ruthless crackdowns on dissent.

“Ever since President Trump took office, we’ve seen Gulf countries step up brutal repression of activists. This is the cost of cutting human rights from the agenda.”

Over the next three days, Amnesty will be telling the stories of activists jailed in Gulf states for peacefully expressing dissent. Amnesty is urging Secretary Tillerson to take this opportunity to advocate for the release of activists such as Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Ebtisam al-Saengh.

In Saudi Arabia, prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi has been flogged and jailed for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair is serving a 15-year sentence for speaking out against the abuses by the Saudi government.

After President Trump and Secretary Tillerson’s last visit, Bahrain banned a major secular opposition group and engaged in a deadly crackdown on protestors. In Bahrain, Ebtisam al-Saengh was recently arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted by members of the Bahraini National Security Agency for speaking out against the government. Amnesty International believes she may be at a high risk of torture.