HRW Asks Saudi to Stop Prosecuting Protesters

Saudi Arabia should stop using the judicial system in the country to prosecute peaceful protesters and human rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The watchdog group said the lack of a clear and predictable criminal law violates international human rights standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights ratified by Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi authorities detain and punish individuals for doing nothing more than peacefully expressing legitimate grievances,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government should stop using the judicial system to punish peaceful dissidents, and recognize that peaceful assembly is not a crime.”

Saudi authorities dispersed a protest by hundreds of Syrian pilgrims in Mina, outside Makkah yesterday, according to Reuters. The protesters were calling for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Saudi government has said that they want a politics-free hajj, and urged pilgrims to focus on performing the rituals. However, it seems that the Saudi Grand Mufti did not get the memo. Addressing pilgrims in Makkah earlier this week, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh criticized calls for democracy in the region.

The right to protest would be protected in a civil, democratic state. Saudi Arabia does not claim to be one, and protests are banned by the country’s law. But despite the ban, the Guardian’s Brian Whitaker notes that “the authorities seem to be making a distinction between “good” and “bad” demonstrations. The anti-Assad protesters at the hajj were treated more gently than might have been expected – presumably because they were expressing a view that accords with Saudi government policy.”

The Saudi government has supported that uprising against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria. Protests against the Saudi government, like the ones held frequently in the eastern region of Qatif, are usually not treated in the same way. 15 people have been killed there since last November.