03/05/2019, 15.53
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UN criticises Saudi Arabia over the use of anti-terrorism laws against activists, including women

Saudi laws against extremist violence are “unacceptably” wide and vague, and are aimed at anyone seen as harming “the unity or stability of the kingdom”. The methods of torture used include electrocution, flogging, whipping, and sexual assault.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia is using its counter-terrorism legislation to silence activists, including women, in violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression, United Nations human rights experts reported yesterday.

In fact, the kingdom’s public prosecutor has begun preparing the trials of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women’s rights activists.

A panel event entitled “Saudi Arabia - Time for Accountability” was held on Monday on the side-lines of the United Nations Human Rights Council centred on repeated Saudi human rights violations.

The Saudi counter-terrorism legislation and other regulations are “unacceptably wide and unacceptably vague”, said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights whilst countering terrorism.

“It includes people who are engaged in promoting or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings or group statements. Anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means,” she said.

“These laws are used to directly attack and limit the rights of prominent human rights defenders, religious figures, writers, journalists, academics, civil activists and all of these groups have been targeted by this law,” she added.

Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said he has been in touch with the Saudi government for the past year since its “crackdown”.

“Worrisome for me is the targeting of women human rights defenders,” he explained, not just women involved in the right to drive movement, “but also all kinds of women”, with “All arrests involved incommunicado detention at undisclosed locations.”

The UN complaint is just the latest in a long series of attacks on the so-called reforms promoted by 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as part of his Vision 2030 programme.

The arrests of senior officials and business people last year, the crackdown on activists and critical voices, the war in Yemen with its civilian victims, children included, and the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi cast a dark shadow on Saudi Arabia.

NGOs and international organisations have zeroed in on the country’s anti-terrorist laws, which do not only concern security, but cover a much wider range of things, including individual rights.

The activists in prison include lawyer Walid abu al-Kahir, poet and scholar Ashraf Fayadh and several women, like Loujain al-Hathloul and Israa al-Ghomgham.

Some are leaders in campaigns for women's rights to drive and to end male guardianship, a practice that effectively places women under the control of their guardian (father, brother, husband).

The methods of torture used include electrocution, flogging, sometimes whipping, and sexual assault.

“It is important to remember that while so many women for example now can drive, women who campaigned for driving are still in prison,” said Omaima al-Najjar, a Saudi blogger living in exile.

What is more, whilst “women can finally vote” or “go to the cinemas, a lot of the activists who called for those reforms are still in prison”.

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