Saudi Arabia’s authorities have begun the year with an intensified crackdown against human rights activists dealing another heavy blow to the last vestiges of the country’s embattled civil society, said Amnesty International.
A string of activists have been detained or appeared in court in recent weeks in connection with their peaceful human rights work signalling that the authorities plan to continue with their ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent. Among those affected is an activist who faced charges for providing information to Amnesty International.
“The latest string of arrests has sparked fears that 2017 will be yet another dark year for human rights in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities continue with their attempts to crush any semblance of a human rights movement in the country,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional office.
“Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia are an endangered species. One by one they are vanishing – prosecuted, jailed, intimidated into silence or forced into exile – highlighting the authorities’ zero tolerance approach to freedom of expression.”
Today Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, a human rights defender and a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), a now disbanded independent human rights organization, appeared before the Specialized Criminal Court which deals with counterterrorism cases. He was sentenced again to eight years in prison in connection with his human rights work. He had faced a number of different charges including “communicating with foreign organizations” and providing information to Amnesty International for use in two of its reports. Every other member of ACPRA has been prosecuted or jailed.
On 8 January, Essam Koshak, a human rights defender, was summoned for interrogation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Mecca around 5pm local time. He immediately went to al-Mansour police station but was detained and never made it back home. Amnesty International has learned that Essam Koshak was not allowed to appoint a lawyer and is being questioned about his Twitter account, which he mainly used to tweet about human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
Just a few days earlier on 5 January Ahmed al-Mushaikhass, a founding member of the Adala Centre for Human Rights, an independent human rights organization which was not permitted to register in Saudi Arabia, received a phone call from the CID asking him to report to al-Qatif police station for questioning. On 8 January he was transferred to al-Dammam police station where he remains in custody. He has been under interrogation by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) since then. Ahmed al-Mushaikhass is a human rights defender known for his work including helping families and relatives of those detained in the Eastern Province to raise their cases with the authorities. His brother, Yussuf al-Mushaikhass, was sentenced to death in January 2016 after taking part in protests in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and is at risk of being executed at any time.
On 18 December Issa al-Nukhaifi, a human rights activist and a member of ACPRA, was called for interrogation at the BIP in Mecca. He was questioned among other things about his tweets in support of Saudi Arabian human rights activists and other detainees. He is currently held in Mecca General Prison. He was previously jailed in connection with his human rights work in 2013 and served a three year prison term before being released in April 2016. After his release he continued to expose human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and was a thorn in the side of the authorities.
“Saudi Arabia’s relentless persecution of human rights defenders is a blatant campaign aimed at deterring them from speaking about the human rights situation in the country and working on behalf of victims of violations. Human rights activists who have been detained solely on account of their human rights work should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Lynn Maalouf.
“Anyone who dares to speak out in defence of human rights in Saudi Arabia today is at risk. With no end in sight to this clampdown, it is more important than ever for Saudi Arabia’s international allies to speak out against this rampant repression.”