ALQST and MENA Rights Group urge Saudi authorities to heed UN chief’s call to end intimidation and reprisals

12 October 2020


A new report by the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) records “multiple allegations” of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture and harassment by the Saudi authorities targeting individuals for cooperating, or seeking to cooperate, with the United Nations. It gives details on 11 individual cases – three women and eight men – and refers to others not being included for fear of further reprisals.

On 1 May 2020, ALQST and MENA Rights Group provided the UNSG with updated information on seven of these courageous individuals, and highlighted the ongoing pattern of intimidation and reprisals by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders and civil society activists. This included women human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Loujain al-Hathloul, who both engaged with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). They are currently in detention and being prosecuted on charges including “communicating with UN human rights bodies”, though their trial has been repeatedly delayed.

The UNSG notes that during interrogation the women were asked about ALQST founder Yahya Assiri, with explicit reference to his engagement with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Assiri himself received death threats and suffered online harassment after delivering a statement during the adoption of Saudi Arabia’s Universal Periodic Review at the HRC in Geneva in March 2019.

The UNSG’s report highlights the case of Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, who has been detained arbitrarily since September 2017, and gives additional information on previously reported cases of human rights defenders subjected to reprisals, including:

  • the death in custody from medical neglect of Abdullah al-Hamid;

  • the detention and ongoing ill-treatment of Essa al-Nukheifi for his consultation with the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty; 

  • the denial of family contact with Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, who has been transferred to another prison ward; and

  • the ongoing detention of Issa al-Hamid and Fawzan al-Harbi. Al-Harbi’s wife Amal al-Harbi, who was arrested for campaigning for her husband’s release, was herself released only after 10 months, in May 2019. 

In the cases of Shubaily, Nukheifi, and Issa al-Hamid, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has specifically called on the authorities to ensure their immediate release and to provide them compensation and other reparations.

The UNSG’s report also draws attention to the case of Munir al-Adam, who was a juvenile with disabilities when detained in 2012 for taking part in a pro-democracy protest. He was one of 37 individuals executed on a single day, 23 April 2019, while the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was still considering his case – thus illustrating the authorities’ persistent failure to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.

In its various responses to UN bodies, the Saudi authorities have consistently denied all of these allegations. 

Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is standing for re-election to the HRC later this month, it has not yet made any pledges or commitments to uphold the highest human rights standards, as candidates are widely expected to do.

ALQST’s Deputy Director Josh Cooper commented: “We wholeheartedly agree with the Secretary-General that intimidation and reprisals against anyone cooperating with the United Nations over human rights are absolutely unacceptable, and we urge the Saudi authorities to commit to working with the HRC and UN mechanisms to uphold human rights.”

Inès Osman, Director of MENA Rights Group added: “No group or individual should be arrested, ill-treated, tortured or harassed for working with the global community to defend human rights. We once again call on the Saudi authorities for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and for an end to intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors for simply doing their job.” 

The UNSG’s report was presented to the UN Human Rights Council and published on 30 September 2020.

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