NGOs: National security practices must never be used to stifle freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia

5 March 2020

On March 5, 2020, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, ALQST and MENA Rights Group delivered a joint oral statement before the Human Rights Council (HRC) during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The NGOs expressed concern over the crackdown on human rights defenders and peaceful critics under the pretext of fighting terrorism and urged the HRC to establish an accountability and transparency mechanism to monitor and address widespread and systematic human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

Madam President,

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation, ALQST and MENA Rights Group wish to highlight the failure of the Saudi authorities to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism contained in the country visit report. Notably, that national security practices to prevent and counter terrorism must never be used to stifle peaceful political dissidence, criticism or non-violent protests.

On the contrary, the Saudi authorities continue to crack down on human rights activists and peaceful critics through the application of counter-terrorism laws. In particular, the 2017 Anti-Terrorism Law remains unamended and still contains an extremely vague definition of terrorism, which criminalises fundamental rights such as the freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Through Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, an exceptional jurisdiction, human rights defenders, including Mohamed Al Oteibi, clerics Hassan Al Maliki and Salman Al Odah, are currently facing trial on charges related to their peaceful activism and free speech. 2018 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Waleed Abu al-Khair has been convicted by the same court on similarly unfounded charges and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence, simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. We call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Madam President,

In view of the government’s continued misuse of counter-terrorism policies to crackdown on peaceful dissent, and other widespread and systematic human rights violations, we urge the Human Rights Council to establish an accountability and transparency mechanism, such as a country-specific Special Procedure, to monitor and address these institutional practices.

We thank you.

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