Repression in Saudi Arabia in full force
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record continues to be scandalous in reports from different human rights organizations.
1- According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia's repression of dissidents, human rights activists, and independent critics remains in full force despite the release of some prominent activists earlier this year. The sentencing of three men in March and April to lengthy prison terms on charges related to their peaceful dissent and expression underscores the authorities’ continued campaign of repression.
Amongst those to be sentenced over the past few months was Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, a former Saudi Red Crescent employee. The aid worker was sentenced to 20 years in prison, followed by a 20-year travel ban, on charges related to his peaceful expression of dissent in the Kingdom. The authorities held him incommunicado with no contact with the outside world for nearly two years before allowing one brief phone call to his family in February 2020.
2- On April 20, the same court sentenced a human rights activist Mohammed al-Rabiah to six years in prison on a host of vague and spurious charges related to his activism. Sources close to both cases say that Saudi authorities tortured them in detention and compelled them to sign false confessions. Saudi authorities arrested al-Rabiah, a published author, in May 2018 alongside over a dozen prominent women’s rights activists. The authorities held him arbitrarily for nearly three years before bringing charges.
The charges included vague accusations that do not resemble actual crimes, such as “signing [a statement] seeking to shake the social fabric and weaken national and societal cohesion,” “communicating and meeting with another to harm the security and stability of the nation” His sentencing followed a one-month trial in the Specialized Criminal Court. The prosecution had sought a maximum 25-year sentence.
“Saudi Arabia’s release of several prominent activists does not signal a softening of repression when the country’s terrorism court is spitting out 20-year sentences for peaceful criticism,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi authorities may have let a few people out to lessen the international pressure, but their attitude toward dissidents remains the same.” “Saudi Arabia cannot rehabilitate its international image so long as it harasses, arrests, and tortures its critics into submission or makes them flee abroad,” said Page.
3- According to another report, the Saudi Arabian government is perhaps the best known in the world for targeting its nationals abroad. Khashoggi’s killing was not an isolated event, but rather the outcome of an increasingly physical, targeted campaign against critics and former insiders, including members of the royal family, that has rapidly escalated since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his rise to power in 2015. This campaign has included extensive use of spyware, proxy punishment, detentions, assaults, and renditions in countries spanning the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Asia. The Saudi Arabian government’s transnational repression campaign also includes a uniquely gendered aspect; women fleeing gender-based repression in the country face characteristic transnational repression efforts from the state.