Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Human rights violations dramatically rise in Saudi Arabia in name of fighting terrorism - report

Amnesty International says human rights violations have dramatically risen in Saudi Arabia, as the government abuses its power in the name of fighting terrorism. The organisation says anyone who criticises the regime is branded an enemy of the state and brutally locked up.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JULY 20, 2009) REUTERS - The Saudi Arabian authorities are using the fight against global terrorism as an excuse to lock up anyone who criticises the regime or who presses for greater social freedoms, according to a new report released on Wednesday (July 22) by Amnesty International.
The group says the government has launched a sustained assault on human rights under the facade of countering terrorism since the September 11th attacks in 2001.

Report author, Dr Lamri Chirouf, told Reuters almost anyone can be a target.

Once arrested they have no access to lawyers and are held in total secrecy.

"The government arrests suspects from their homes, from the classroom, from the university compounds, from the streets and locks them up with no right of access to a lawyer, no right to challenge the decision to be detained, they are often held in solitary confinement for lengthy periods. There are many who have alleged to have been tortured. They are held incommunicado for months, without their families knowing where they are," said Dr Chirouf.

The report highlights the cases of people like Dr Matroul Al-Falih, and Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, both prominent human rights defenders and university professors. They were held for a year before being tried in 2004 and jailed for six and seven years respectively.

Another university professor, Abdul Rahman Al-Shumayri, has been in jail since February 2007. His lawyer has not been permitted to see him. Hani Al-Sayegh, had sought asylum in the United States, but was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia in October 1999. He was immediately detailed and is still in prison.

Arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention of political and security suspects without trial have been long-standing problems in Saudi, however. Amnesty says the number of people detained has risen dramatically from hundreds to thousands since 2001.

Amnesty International says it has no way of knowing the true extent of arbitrary detentions and can only go by the latest Saudi government figures, which report that between 2003 and 2007 9,000 suspects had been detained and that 3,106 are still being held. Amnesty says the real figure is probably far higher than that.

Anybody who criticises the ever-tightening grip on freedom of speech is immediately branded a terrorist, said Chirouf: "The activists who have said that we do not accept people being detained in this manner in the name of terrorism - they ended up being locked up themselves, because that was seen to be supporting terrorism."

Amnesty International says the international community, particularly those countries in the west which have strong business ties with Saudi, like Britain and America, have failed to hold the government to account over the violations of human rights.

"Amnesty has always said it is wrong to sell human rights consciousness for any material gains...Saudi Arabia nationals, like any other nationals, in Britain in the US or in any other, deserve respect and should not be punished for openly speaking their minds up. It is their right," said Chirouf.

During a state visit to Britain in 2007, the British and Saudi monarchs exchanged warm words sparking controversy. Queen Elizabeth II said to Saudi's King Abdullah at a banquet: "We also continue to work together against the terrorists who threaten the way of life of our citizens in both countries."

Those words and the visit itself drew protests and political controversy, with some politicians refusing to attend the banquet in protest at Saudi's human rights record and an allegedly corrupt arms contract.

Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia's apparent move in 2000 towards greater freedoms has been completely reversed in recent years, making a mockery of the fact that nine years ago the regime declared it "wholly embraced the universality of human rights".