Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain Human Rights Abuses
According to the 2020 Human Rights Watch report, suppression and abuse of power is continuing in different countries. Here are some points on Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain:
Saudi authorities carried out a sweeping campaign of repression against independent dissidents and activists, including two waves of mass arrests, in 2019.
- The arrests and harassment coincided with the most significant advancements for Saudi women in recent years, including removing travel restrictions for women 21 and over and granting women more control over civil status issues. “Reforms for Saudi women do not whitewash the rampant harassment and detention of Saudi activists and intellectuals, including women’s rights activists, who simply expressed their views publicly or privately,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
- Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, faced no meaningful justice during 2019 for abuses by state security agents over the past few years. Dozens of Saudi dissidents and activists, including four prominent women’s rights defenders, remain in detention while they and others face unfair trials on charges tied solely to their public criticism of the government or peaceful human rights work.
- As the leader of the coalition that began military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. On June 20, 2019, a United Kingdom appeals court ruled that the UK government’s refusal to consider Saudi Arabia’s laws-of-war violations in Yemen before licensing arms sales was unlawful, a ruling that resulted in the suspension of new UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the government makes a new lawful decision on arms licenses or obtains a new court order.
United Arab Emirates authorities displayed a dangerous disregard for the rule of law in 2019 with arbitrary detentions, seriously flawed trials, and rampant abuse of detainees.
- Despite declaring 2019 the “Year of Tolerance,” UAE rulers cemented their clampdown on all manners of peaceful dissent by continuing to hold activists who had completed their sentences without a clear legal basis.
- Over the past year, there have also been increased concerns for the deteriorating health of two unjustly detained rights activists, Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser bin Ghaith, who are being held in dismal prison conditions and denied access to health care. Both Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in prison solely for exercising his right to free expression, and bin Ghaith, serving 10 years on charges stemming from criticizing UAE and Egyptian authorities, carried out hunger strikes to protest their unjust convictions and deplorable treatment.
- Especially in cases related to state security, people in the UAE experienced arbitrary and incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal assistance. Forced confessions were used as evidence in trial proceedings, and prisoners complained of dismal conditions and denial of adequate medical care, including lifesaving treatment for infectious diseases.
- The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers. Those who leave their employers without permission faced punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. Many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor.
Bahrain’s human rights record worsened in 2019, as the government carried out executions, convicted critics for peaceful expression, and threatened social media activists.
- The government executed three people in July, including two prisoners convicted in a mass trial marred by serious due process violations and allegations of torture. On December 31, 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld a five-year sentence for the human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, arising from his social media activity. The courts subsequently rejected motions filed by Rajab’s lawyer requesting that he serve a non-custodial sentence. The Court of Cassation upheld the life sentence against Shaikh Ali Salman, leader of Al-Wifaq, Bahrain’s largest but now-dissolved opposition political society, on January 28 on dubious “espionage” charges.
- “Bahraini authorities have silenced, exiled, or imprisoned anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
- In 2019, Bahrain widened its suppression of online and social media activity. On May 30, the Interior Ministry declared that it will prosecute people who follow “inciting accounts” or share such posts on Twitter. No independent media have operated in Bahrain since the Information Affairs Ministry suspended Al Wasat, the country’s only independent newspaper, in 2017.
- Bahrain’s prison authorities are failing to provide adequate medical care to high-profile prisoners, some of whom are in critical condition. On August 15, more than 600 prisoners in the Jaw Prison and Dry Dock Detention Center began a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including denial of medical care and placement in cells where prisoners are held with people with whom they do not share a common language, culture, or religion.
- Oversight bodies set up in 2012, such as the Interior Ministry’s Ombudsman office, have not investigated credible allegations of prison abuse or held accountable officials responsible for torture during interrogations.