Saudi Arabia Urged to Stop Harassing Activists

International watchdog group Human Rights Watch said Monday that Saudi Arabia “should immediately cease harassing” four activists who founded a new human rights organization and allow them to operate in the country.

The New York-based HRW said the public persecutor in Riyadh has summoned Mohammed Abdullah al-Otaibi and three other founding members of the Union for Human Rights (UHR) for questioning, raising fears that the government may press charges against them.

“Yet again, Saudi authorities are threatening with long prison terms those who dare to speak out in favor of human rights reforms,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson in a statement. “How can establishing a human rights organization be a crime? The Saudi authorities should be welcoming such initiatives, not quashing them.”

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, puts tough restrictions on the establishment of civil society organizations. The only government-licensed human rights organization was founded in 2004. Attempts by activists to set up rights group in recent years have been faced by government resistance. A proposed law to regulate civil society organizations has been in limbo since 2008.

Earlier this year, a court in Riyadh sentenced two prominent activists to jail for founding an unlicensed human rights organization. Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed were sentenced to a total of 20 years in jail followed by lengthy travel bans.