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In 2017, Saudi Arabia experienced rapid changes in the economic, social, security, political and religious fields which came hand in hand with the appointment of the Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman. On June 21st, 2017 a royal order was issued to designate him as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister, which were in addition to the several other posts he already serves.OnJanuary 23rd, 2015, he was appointed as a Defense Minister, Chief of Royal Court and Special Advisor for the King. On January 29th, 2015 a royal order was issued to establish the Council for Economic Affairs and Development headed by Mohamad Bin Salman, and the Council for Political and Security Affairs which was headed first by Mohamad Bin Naif until his dismissal on the 21st of July 2017, to be headed later by Mohamad Bin Salman.
In April 2016, Mohammad Bin Salma announced the “2030Vision”, which was posed as an economic transformation plan. Moreover, at the inauguration of Future Investment Initiative Conference, he made promises of economic reform; in which he said that he will seek to fight “extremism” without mentioning a specific definition of the intended “extremism”. During this year, the country has ended its insistence on denying women driving, allowing them to attend football matches and allowing the creation of Cinema Halls which was banned in the country.
On November 4th, 2017,a royal order was issued to create a higher committee headed by the Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman, whose aim was to combat corruption; which was followed by series arrests of princes and officials. Mohamad Bin Salman popularized that this committee is a part of his economic reform plan.He said during a television interview that if combating corruption wasn’t at the top of power, then it is useless; adding that anyone who has enough evidence against him will be punished whether he is a minister or a prince. However what the government has said is a fight against corruption, in fact guarantees fundamental excesses and multiple violations, without any clear standard, as the anti-corruption protocols indicates that “inclusive anti-corruption includes effective institutions, appropriate laws, and reforms to achieve good governance, as well as involving the relevant stakeholders to work within and outside the government “, which was not available in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, these arrests had shown a clear selectivity, while some princes and wealthy people have been arrested; there is twice the number of princes and wealthy people who are doing their jobs in the same financial and administrative ways,also there are no independent authorities that can investigate or prosecute the King or the Crown Prince.
These decisions and steps did not result an improvement in theheavily deteriorated human rights situation in the country, but a number of them clarified that the political decision makers in the country don’t give any importance to human rights, and some were direct violation of freedoms, laws and civil society.
The European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights reviews the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia in 2017, which is the third year of the ruler, and shows a more comprehensive picture of the fact the country is going through, away from the attempts to beautify and official mislead,such as: International Commitments, International Standings, Extrajudicial Killing or by Summarized or Arbitrary Executions, Justice Trial Requirements, Torture, Children’s Rights, Women’s Rights, Freedom of Opinion & Expression and the Right of Peaceful Assembly and Establishing Associations, Use of Excessive Violence, Religious Freedom, Racism, Cultural Rights, Human Rights Defenders and Use of Terrorism Laws.
Since 2008 Saudi Arabia has been insistent in rejecting visits requests from the special independent rapporteurs in the United Nations, who are concerned with various human rights cases.Furthermore, after 9 years of continuous rejections, on January 2017, Saudi Arabia responded to a visit request which the special rapporteur concerned with extreme poverty and human rights has submitted, Philip Alliston. This was followed by the visit of the special rapporteur concerned with protecting and improving human rights, Ben Amerson, in the context of fighting terrorism in April 2017. In both visits the Saudi government failed to provide the necessary guarantees and facilities to do their jobs effectively, including freedom of transfer, free access to prisons, freedom of communicating with media and civil society, and freedom of full access to all documentary materials related to their mandate.
The two rapporteurs provided reports about the visit to the Human Rights Council including notes and recommendations, but the facts shows a lack of consideration by Saudi Arabia to those notes and recommendations. Despite the concern that Amerson showed at the end of his visit statement on May 4, 2017, over the anti – terrorism law and its usage against activists, human rights defenders and others. The Saudi government amended the law in November 2017, which included new provisions about criminalizing the expression of opinion and punishing criticizers of the King and the Crown Prince. Furthermore, the government continued using this law and the Specialized Criminal Court for prosecuting and trialing activists and jurists.
Despite that the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and Human Rights “Alliston” urged the Saudi government to let the citizens participate in the decisions it took in the economic field, especially if they want to achieve 2030 plan.The government continued arresting economists and businessmen for criticizing the economic plans and decisions. Isam Al Zamel, an economic analyst is one of them; he was reportedly arrested for criticizing 2030 economic vision and selling a share of Aramco.Also, the journalist Jamil Farisi was also believed to have been arrested for expressing economic opinions including the decision of selling a share of Aramco as well.
Moreover, the government continued to ignore its international commitments, especially the Human Rights Councils’ mechanisms in which it is a member for the fourth time; where it failed to respond to the recommendations that the Special Rapporteurs made, and didn’t comply with its commitments.
On March 3, 2017 the Special Rapporteur “Micheal Forst” who is concerned with the situation of the Human Rights Defenders, expressed his serious concerns about the Human Rights defenders’ situation in Saudi Arabia. He asserted that, according to the available information since 2014, the targeting of Human Rights defenders by Saudi Arabia is increasing. On March 8, 2017, the High Commissioner “Zaid Bin Raad Hussein” submitted his annual report to the Human Rights Council, which discussed the execution penalty, mentioning that there are four countries only responsible about ninety percent of executions worldwide, including Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, In a report published on September 20, 2017, on the sidelines of the thirty six session agenda of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Secretary – General noted that Saudi Arabia, along with 29 other countries,are still practicing intimidating acts ranging from travel bans and assets freezing, to detention and torture against individuals and groups for collaborating with United Nation’s institutions and mechanisms.
In 2017 and during the regular sessions of the Human Rights Council (sessions 34, 35 & 36), Saudi Arabia faced a number of international criticism for human rights violations. During the 34th session which was held in March 2017, the Czech Republic requested Saudi Arabia to stop executions practices. Also, France expressed its deep concern from Saudi Arabia’s use ofthis punishment. Before the Human Rights Council, countries’ missions criticized the Saudi Arabia targeting of Human Rights Defenders, whereas Belgium expressed its concern from continuing investigating and arresting them. In addition, Iceland insisted on the importance of protecting Human Rights Defenders, adding that it showed its concern from the continuous of discrimination against women.
In June 2017, in the thirty fifth session of the Human Rights Council, Switzerland called upon Saudi Arabia for an immediate cessation of executions including children. Norway alsocalled upon the kingdom to protect the Human Rights Defenders.
On September 2017, in the thirty sixth’s session, Iceland denouncedthe Saudi executions,which reached 350 since it became a member in the Human Rights Council for the first time in 2006, while Switzerland warned from using the economic plans to restrict the civil society more.
In July 2017, Canada expressed its concern from the increasing violence in eastern region of Saudi Arabia, as a result ofthe military attack on Awamiyah city. Also, itemphasized that the government must abide with international law, especially with regards to the death sentences issued against 14 young men.
Extrajudicial killing or by Summary or Arbitrary Executions
Saudi Arabia continued implementing death sentences, ignoring UN resolutions and criticisms. During 2017, 146 people werebeheaded, 90 of them were Saudi citizens while the other 56 were foreigners. Of those, 60 were charged with drugs offenses, which is not considered among the most serious crimes in the international law; whilst conversely, at the same time it claims in its official statement that it doesn’t pronounce death penalty but only for the case of “most serious crimes”.
Additionally, in July 2017, Saudi Arabia killed four people charging them with participating in demonstrations and with violation accusations; Amjad Al Moaibed, Youssef Al Moushaikhes, Zaher Al Basri and Mahdi Al Sayegh. These executions were carried out despite complaints of the individuals before the judiciary that they were subjected to tortured for the purpose of being forced to approve certain statements, but the judiciary ignored totally their complaint and issued its executionjudgmentbased upon confessions extracted under torture and coercion.
Along with those who wereexecuted, Saudi Arabia continued issuing and ratifying death sentences. In spite of the blackout methodology which Saudi Arabia follows in the judicial procedures, the organization counted, that as of 11 July 2017, 47 suspects are facing execution, of whom at least 8 are children, as well as a detainee with disabilities Mounir Al Adam, for whom the UN committee concerned with the right of persons with disabilities called upon the Saudi government to revoke the death sentence against him, but the Saudi responses were characterized by evasion and giving prohibitive excuses.
On December 12, 2017, the Specialized Criminal Court ratified death sentence against 12 detainees for espionage for Iran. The organization analyzed their sentence and confirmed that their trial lacked the simplest conditions of a fair trial, and that they were tortured so as to force them into signing falsified statements that the investigators had written themselves, and included many charges against them which are not related to espionage.
The organization also identified the persistence of the Saudi government in issuing and implementing hundreds of death sentences against those accused of drugs offences, which is considered a minor offence according to the international law. Such as the situation of the Jordanian detainee Hussein Abu Al Khair, who was accused of drug smuggling and had a final death sentence in November 2017, which may be implemented at any moment in spite his statement before the judiciary that he had been tortured
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia implemented a number of extra judicial killing cases on the streets, during operations related to its military attack on Awamiyah which began in May 10, 2017.
Fair trial safeguards
Trials in Saudi Arabia lackeffective safeguards which guarantee a fair trial, as the government still deprives detainees from most of their rights from the moment of arrest and till the end of the trial.Despite wide deprivation fromimportant and essential rights, the trials lead to the continuous issuing of death sentences regardless of the circumstances and violations the victims were exposed to, even if torture was used to extract confessions. On July 2017, the Specialized Criminal Court ratified on death sentences against detainees accused of spying, despite the serious lack in the pre-trial rights documented by the organization. Some of the detainees couldn’t get their rights of legal counsel until only after the first session, whilstthe lawyers thereafter couldn’t undertake their role effectively in defending their clients due to obstacles placed against them, which led to judgements issued in some cases without a defence brief even being submitted.
Moreover, there are no adequate healthprovisions for some detainees, which affect the prisoners’ overall health. Sometimes, the Saudi government deprives some detainees from their right of medical treatment, which threatens their life. According to informationreceived, the researcher and academic Dr. Mustapha Al-Hassan, who was arrested in the arrest campaign in 2017, suffered from bad medical conditions inside the jail due to cancer and denied access to the necessary treatment.
In January 2017, the special criminal court issued a first – instance death sentence against detainee Haidar Al-Layf, after an unfair trial that lacked justiceand procedural safeguards. During his detention, Haidar was put in solitary confinement and exposed to torture; and was prevented from hiring a lawyer until after the third session of the trial.
In addition to the organization’s monitoring of executions against those accused of drugs, there was a clear lack of justiceand procedural safeguards. These flaws included the right to access a lawyer upon arrest, the right to contact with the outside world, in addition to the right of innocence before being proven guilty and the right of foreigners to accessa translator.
Although Saudi Arabia has ratified the convention against torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment in 1997, Saudiprisons still witness torture conditions which aim toelicit specific forced confessions. According to the organisation’s monitoring, several death sentences issued by the Specialized Criminal Court were based on confessions extracted under torture.In May 2017, the Saudi judiciary ratified death sentences against 14 prisoners including minors; this comes despite a number of them informing the judge that they were subjected to torture, cruel treatment and coercion for confessions. However, the judiciary didn’t give any importance to their allegations of torture nor to the detainee’s demands for questioning the investigators.
In addition to the convention against torture, Saudi Arabia signed also in the UN convention of the rights of the child, and despite this, children were not excluded from acts torture and cruel treatment.In this regard, the organization had identified torture cases of 16 children. On August 18, 2017, Saudi government arrested 16 years old child Mohammed Abdulrazek Al-Labad, and tortured him in the police station in Awamiyah, by beating him on the face and on different places of the body using a wooden stick. He was then transferred to Al Mabahith prison in Dammam, which is anadult’s prison, and didn’t receive a trial till the end of 2017.Furthermore, on July 6, 2017, another15 years old child named Mohammed Issam Alfaraj was arrested after he left a Billiards play room in Al-Madina Al-Munawara, where he was maltreated and remains arbitrarily detainedwithout trial.
Additionally, ESOHR has documented the implementation of death sentences during 2017, in which victims were accused according to coerced statementsextracted under torture, including the mass execution of Zaher Al Basri, Youssef Al Moushaikhes, Amjad Al-Moaibed and Mahdi Al-saegh.
Saudi Arabia has increased its violation toward children during 2017, in contrary to the recommendations that the Children’s Rights Committee submitted to Saudi Arabia during the year of 2016. On September 11th 2017 the court ratified on the death sentence issued against minor Abdul Kareem Al-Hawaj after he spent 5 months in a solitary confinement.Abdul Kareem Al-Hawaj was exposed to torture by beating him using sticks, electrical wires, kicking by thick-soled shoes,electrocution, tying his hands upward for more than 12 hours and preventing him from using the toilet. He was also subjected to psychological torture through verbal abuse, threats to kill his parents and pull off his fingernails, despite the affirmation of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that the issued sentence against Al-Hawaj is a violation of international law.
On May 5th 2017, the Saudi government transferred the child Murtaja Qreereis to the notorious prison in Dammam, which is specialized prison for those whom aged over 18 years old, and well known forits extremetorture and maltreatment. Murtaja was sent theredespitethere being no sentence filed against him, despite the fact that 3 years have elapsed since his arrest in September 2014.
Additionally, according to ESOHR’s documentations, there are at least 7 children under the danger of execution, which demonstrates thatthe Saudi government does not exclude children from the torture process it uses for confessions.
On September 26th2017, king Salman Bin Abdulaziz issued an order under which Saudi government stopped depriving women from driving cars by June 2018, to end decades in which Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that deprives women from driving. This was preceded by a number of decisions, including allowing women to access to government services without the permission of their guardian as of May 2017, with a condition of unavailability of a systematic instrument for the request according to the Islamic Sharia. Through these decisions, the Saudi government tried to mitigate the pressures of women’s movement within the country. However, this royal order failed to extend to include the ending of the guardianship system, which keeps women under men’s guardianship in most of her dealings.
In July 2017, the campaign in which Saudi women activists sought to end the male guardianship system over women, has entered its second year, and offers key insight into the reality of women’s continuous suffering in SaudiArabia.
Moreover, laws in Saudi Arabia are still unable to protect women. In October 2017, a young lady Amina Al-Juaid disappeared after she left her parents’ house due to violence, while she was unable to approach any official body for help due to fear of revenge or reprisals.
There are also fears for two sisters Ashwak and Arej from refoulement to Saudi Arabia, after they escaped from the kingdom due to bad family treatment.
In April 2017, at the demand of Saudi Embassy, the Philippine authorities arrested Dina Ali whilst she was on her way to Australia; and she was forced to return to the country. In a video, Dina confirmed she is a victim of domestic abuse, and she will face death if returned to the country; despite her fears, she was forcibly returned to the country.Upon arrival of Dina to the country, a number of activists and friends of Dina went to the airport, including Alaa Al Enezi (24 years), where information indicated that she was detained for several days at the girls’ care center in Riyadh.
Furthermore, the Saudi government continued using the policy of harassment toward women human rights defenders. In June 2017, the defendant Loujain Hathloul was arrested from Dammam airport for 3 days without charge; previously she was also arrested in 2014 for partaking in a campaign to break the ban on driving.
Also, on 17 April 2017,Mariam Al-Otaibi, who had an interest in defending women’s rights, was arrested, while she was at work, and imprisoned for nearly 100 day. Her arrest was related to the guardianship system which allows some male family members to control women in different aspects, in the absence of laws that protect herand a lack of independent judiciary.
Furthermore, the Saudi government arrested Mrs. Aesha Al-Marzuk in October 2017, upon returning from Sweden, the place of her political asylum.
With regard to most decisions issued by Saudi Arabia, which are concerned of women; there are noreal guarantees that implementationwill occur, for many reasons, such as the absence of women in leadership positions.Besides the continuing restrictions on women activists through arrest,trials, threats, and preventing them from establishing Human Rights organisations, despite the system which allows the creation of civil organisations and institutions, having been in existence more than two years.
Freedom of Opinion & Expression, the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Establishing Associations
During 2017, the Saudi government doubled its harassmentsefforts on the freedom of opinion and expression, as it engaged in a wide-scale arrest campaign against various sectors of population, including reforms demanders and rights defenders. Simultaneously, there continues to be no obstacle in criminalizing peaceful and dissenting opinions, through some laws drafted inwith ambiguous formulations which are used to criminalized opinion expressing, such as anti-terrorism laws, which include some provisions that have been added recently. However,these new additions have not prevented Saudi Arabia from continuing to use the laws to criminalise dissenting opinions.
Furthermore, the Saudi government still doesn’t provide any room for independent media work according to the limits imposed by the government, and continues with the policy of blocking and closing sites. In July 2017 it blocked ‘Arab 48’ website, and still continues blocking websites for Human Rights Organisations including the European Saudi Organisationfor Human Rights. Also, in May 2017,amidst a background of a political conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Saudi government closed Al-Jazeera channels and its websites and banned its signal; as well as closed all Qatari newspapers’ websites.
In January 2017 the Specialized Criminal Court issued a prison sentence against the writer Nather Al-Majed to 7 years imprisonment. His arrest was in direct relation to accusations of opinion, including “writings supporting the demonstrations and protests in Qatif governorate, and calling for political reforms and the removal of discrimination”.
In September 2017, according to community sources, the Saudi forces arbitrarily arrested at least 43 people,includingclerics, academics, writers and journalists. Although the charges are not officially and legally clarified, the official media accused them of spying for a foreign country, following the controversy that occurred in 2017 with Qatar. According to the social analysts,the arrests have multiple causes, like the criticizing the Saudi governments’ internal or external policies, or criticizing economic, social or religious issues. Amongst the detainees isthe poet Ziad Bin Nuhet Al-Mazini Al-Harbe,who according to information received, indicated that he was arrested for a video criticizing the Saudi official media coverage of gulf crisis. In addition to that, the Saudi government arrested a number of writers and journalists including the journalist Fahd Al-Snaidy.
Besides such continued harassment, the Saudi governments also practiced violations against the families of detainees. For example, in October 2017 the Saudi government arrested Al-Abbas Hasan Al-Maliki, who is the son of Sheikh Hasan Farhan Al-Maliki, who was arrested earlier on September 11th 2017. The information received indicated that the arrest of Al-Abbas was due to tweets which he posted about his father’s arrest.Sheikh Al-Maliki is well known within Saudi society due to his interest inreformist religious research that differs in perspective to the official religious view sponsored by the Saudi government. In October, 2017 Dr. Abdallah Al-Awdah, the son of the detainee Sheikh Salman Al-Awdah, who resides in the United States, confirmed that his brothers (including children) were banned from travelling abroad for unknown reasons.
Moreover, the Saudi government still prohibits the establishment of independent associations and organizations. Since the start of 2017, human rights defendant Nasima Al-Sada, a womens rights defender, applied to establish an association under the name (Noon) for defending women’s rights, but she did not receive any response. Furthermore, the Saudi judiciary continued prosecuting and criminalizing people for establishing associations, including the two human rights defenders Mohammed Al-Otaibi and Abdallah Al-Attawi.
Use of Excessive Violence
The year 2017 witnessed unprecedented governmental violence, of a magnitude unseen in the last decade in the history of Saudi Arabia. In March, the Saudi government implemented a series of raids inside Awamiyah city under the pretext of pursuing wantedmen, duringwhich it used various types of weapons. The government violence in the civilianneighborhoods led tothe killing of a number of people, including the child Waleed Al-Orayedh who was snipped by the military forces whilst he was at the door of his house. Later, the media accused him of being terrorist and a wanted person.Furthermore, the government authorities refused hand his body over to his family;despite his family asking the government to return his body so that they couldbury him in Awamiyah’s cemetery, where he was born.
On May 10, 2017 the governments violation entered an unprecedented chapter, where the Saudi forces triggered a military campaign in Awamiyah city and surrounding areas. Awamiyah is also the hometown of social justice activists Sheikh Nemer Baqir Al-Nemer, who was unlawfully executed by Saudi Arabia on January 2nd, 2016 for his peaceful activism and demands for reforms. The military campaign led to serious losses, resulting in killing and injuring tens of civilians, including women and children. The campaign also led to the destruction of the historical neighborhood Al-Mosawarah, regarding which the United Nations’ expertsissued a statement, urging the Saudi government not to demolish the historic site.
While the government said that the aim of the military operationwas to pursue wantedindividuals,it in fact led to killing and injuring civilians, including children. On June 12th, 2017, there were reports of approximately 30 injured, includingthatof child Sajjad Abu Abdullah, who later died of his wounds. The military operation destroyed various parts of Awamiyah, in addition to displacing thousands ofresidents. Despite military operation leading to wide scale destruction of citizens’ property, as a result of the widespread use of guns and RPGs by the Saudi forces, the government failed to provide any compensation to theaffected citizens.
On 1st June 2017, the Saudi government carried out an extrajudicial killingoperation against two wanted citizens, Mohammed Al-Suwaimel and Fadel Abdullah Al-Hmada. It was noted that during the military operation the Saudi government killed civilians who were not related to the protest movement or to the use of weapons; instead, many of those targeted were mere bystanders, some of them passing along the road or by car. In a bid to cover up such violations, official newspaperslater accused themof being terrorists or wanted, to justify these arbitrary killings. The authorities also detained someof thebodies and failed to hand them over to their families for burial.
The Saudi government continues curtailing religious freedoms. In September 2017, the security forces demolished and removed “Husseiniat” in Al-Kudaih town after they demolished and bulldozed many of worship houses and “Husseiniat” in Awamiyah town during the military operation; whilst also arresting persons for participating in the Shia processions, including Islamic singers.
Moreover, the sentence against Palestinian poet AshrafFayad, who was arrested in January 2018, had been sentenced to 8 years imprisonment, after a Saudi court retracted its death sentenceruling against him, in connection with charges related to his intellectual opinions and poetry.
In February 2017, the Saudi Minister of Education admitted that the official curriculum was in need of comprehensive repair, as reports confirmed that it promotes hatred and intolerance against anyone who belongs to a different religion or intellectual practice which may be contrary toofficial one. However, the same curriculumcontinues to be taught and there has been no concrete steps taken to stoptheir usage or correct them.
The Saudi government continued practicing racism against religious minorities and tribes through its official bodies, the official Religious and Educational Association and state official clerics and others. In March 2017, on the occasion of the international Day for the Elimination of racial discrimination, the European Saudi organisation issued a statement documenting a number of official racist practices.
In addition to that, Saudi policies continued to incite racism against those who are not in possession of a nationality and are considered “stateless”. This discrimination occurs through continuing to prevent them from their essential rights of nationality, work and education. Also,official policies incite racism against migrants workers, especially amidst the economic crisis which the country is experiencing. Furthermore, sometimes the poverty of citizens is justified by the presence of migrant workers which in return leads to more hatred, and there have been several social media racist campaigns against them in 2017. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is continues to practice “the sponsorship system” which could be considered as the modern version of slavery, especially when there is an absence of safeguarding systems that protects workers.
In April 4, 2017, a Saudi woman shared videos for herself partaking in humiliating treatment against a house keeper. There is not effective protection for house maids in Saudi Arabia, in fact, sometimes their recourse to the police or such, is more harmful for them, as it may result in them being forcibly deportedand losing their job.
In March 2017, during a side event at 34th session of the Human Rights Council, human rights organisations, including the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, discussed Saudi violation of religious and cultural freedom in the country, byfailing to protectminorities and discriminating against them, in addition to discussing Saudi Arabia’s reservations in a number of international mechanisms and treaties which protects these rights.
In May 2017, a number of the United Nations experts issued a statement demanding the Saudi authorities tohalt the demolitionof the heritage site of Al-Mosawarah neighborhood, which is estimated to be more than 400 yearsold, and called for an end to displacement of the local population. The special rapporteur of cultural rights “Kareema Bnoun” considered the demolition operation as “obliterated the traces of this cultural, historical and living heritage, and it is a clear violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the international Human rights law”, but the Saudi government didn’t respond to the rapporteur concerns and continued demolishing the neighborhood.
In December 2017, a UN report confirmed that the Saudi government is linked to groups based on fundamentalism and extremism in its practices, which leads to the violation of women’s rights,especiallyof her cultural rights.
Human Rights Defenders and Terrorism Laws Using
2017 wasa horrific year for human rights defenders, activists and reformist in Saudi Arabia,in which they were targeted through flawed laws, and their legitimate actions criminalized by non-independent judiciary and repressivestate apparatus. The endorsement of the Council of Ministers in November 2017,of new provisions related to anti-terrorism law, failed to result in any improvement in the law. It continues to be used against the protesters, children and human rights defenders; and even criminalizes freedom of opinion through endorsing a penalty of between 5 to 10 years against anyone who describes the King or the Crown Prince “with any descriptionthatcontests with religion or justice in a direct or indirect way”, and also criminalizes other peaceful actions that have no bearing to terrorism.
During the same month, the notoriousSpecialized Criminal Court, sentenced human rights defendant Naema Al-Matrod to 6 years imprisonment for heractivism, under the law of Anti-terrorism; andtrumped up accusations leveled against her included participation in protests and revealing opinions against the judiciary through twitter.
In December 2017, the Saudi government released the human right defender Sulieman Al-Rashdawe, 82 years old, after he spent 5 years out of the 15years which he had been sentenced to for his human rights work. The release of Al-Rashdawe didn’t contribute in decreasing the Saudi government violation where it continued targeting human rights defenders. Many of them are still in prisons, with long sentences,including members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Associations (ACPRA),who were all arrested. The last of them were Abdulaziz Al-shubaili and Issa Al-hamid who were arrested in September 2017, after a trialwhich lacked the minimumprocedural safeguards. The accusations levelled against them are not considered crimes, but comes under the category of legitimate peaceful expression. In February 2017, human rights defender Waleed Abul Khair, who was arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to 15 years for his human rights work, received the “Law Human Rights of Upper Canada Association” award.
On January 8, 2017, the Criminal Investigation Department in Makkah summoned the human rights defender Issam Kushak, where he was arrested and interrogated for tweeting about human rights issues in the country. One of the interests of Issam in his tweets was anti-corruption; in the meantime he is waiting to be sentenced.
In February 2017 the human rights defendant Samar Badawi, received a summons from the Bureau of Investigation andProsecution in Jeddah,which forms part of an ongoing series of harassment from the authorities, in connection to her human rights work.
Furthermore, in 2017 the trial of the human rights defender Issa Al-Nukhaifi continued; he has been detained since September 2016 ; and is likely to be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison due to the prosecutions claim to prosecute him according to Royal Decree A/44 which was issued especially to penalize those whom participate in (hostilities outside the kingdom or thosebelonging to movements or religious or extremist intellectual groups thatare classified as terrorist organizations, internally, regionally or internationally, or supporting it or adapting its ideology in any form.
On July 10, 2017, the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted the human rights defender Sheikh Mohammed Al-Habib, who was accused in relation to his defense of human rights,and of for expressing and criticizing the death sentence issued against Sheikh Nemr Al Nemr. However, the sentence was later quashed, and he was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
In May 2017 the Qatari government arrestedhuman rights defender Mohammed Al-Otaibi from Doha airport while traveling to Norway afterNorway agreed to grant him political asylum, and he was immediately handed over to the Saudi government, after which he was placed Dammam GDI prison. Al-Otaibi, along with Abdullah Al-Attawifaced a trial due to accusations related to establishing a human rights organization and for their human rights work, for which they were sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.
In May 2017, Saudi Security Forces arrested the human rights defender Ali Shaaban while he was going to the pharmacy with his daughter and transferred him to Qatif general jail. Information receivedconfirmed that his arrest and detention were linked to his internet activity, as Shaaban was active in environmental issues and rejected sea landfill projects. Also, he is well known for expressing his view on women’s right, freedom of expression and combating corruption issues. He regularly defends victims of violations, which believes that his arrest is due to expressing his opinion over the military attack on Awamiyah.
Beside the flawed judiciary system, the government continued using other systems to prosecute activists and human rights defenders under the pretext of terrorism. For example, political activist Khaled Al Omair was transferred to Mohammad Bin Naif Counseling and Care Center which the Saudi governments claimthat it is “A reformist institution specialized in intellectual rehabilitation of extremists”; despite Al Omair being arrested for calls for demonstrations to support Palestine, which does not constitute extremism.
Whilst 2017 shows some remarkable measures and decisions, regardless of the ongoing debate, it confirmed the predominance of absolute and unilateral rule that has complete power to take and enforce decisions. This wasevidenced in the arrest campaign of November 2017 of dozens of princes, businessmen and officials under pretext of fighting corruption under the supervision of a Special Committee formed under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who has been conferred wideranging powers (having the right to take any precautionary measures deemed necessaryand having the right to decide whatever is in the public interest) with no restrictions or applicable laws.
However, as the country is governed by an absolute monarchy, the Government has not sought to respect and promote human rights. It has used force, authority, and capacity to promote human rights and dignity abuse, and further oppression to maintain the absolute monarchy mode of governance. This is a far cry from good governance, such as full respect for human rights, rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, access to knowledge, information, and education, political empowerment of people, equality and sustainability, attitudes and values that promote responsibility, solidarity and tolerance. Lack of these rights has increased the miserable reality of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
In 2017, aside from superficial changes used to bolster its image, the Saudi Government continued violating its international obligations, silencing dissenting opinions, prosecuting human rights advocates and defenders and persisting in its discriminatory policies against minorities, foreign workers and stateless persons. While the Saudi government tried to show a new picture of its human rights dealings by allowing UN rapporteurs visits and through its official statements, it failed to show good intention throughout these visits, since the authorities limited the rapporteurs’ movements and failed to provide them with required information.
The European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights considers that 2017 has surpassed previous years in terms of violations, and the oppressive role of the Saudi state in these permitting violation is clear. The most prominent of these steps is the creation of the homeland security agency in July 21st, 2017 following an overhaul of the ministry of interior by the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who developed the agency to encompass 5 entities, such as the General Directorate of Investigations, Special Security Forces, and the Special Emergency Forces which are the most frequent in arresting and violating human rights.
ESOHR stresses that any new changes or reforms that are not linked with granting rights and protecting human rights defenders,improving laws and administrative systems in a way that respects human rights, ensuring fair trials, ending extrajudicial killing and use of arbitrary measures, and enabling the people to participate effectively in their affairs, will not be reliable or form a useful foundation for reforming the country.