Saudi Activists Denied License to Found Human Rights Center

A Saudi court in the eastern city of Dammam dismissed a lawsuit by a group of activists against the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) for denying them a license to establish a human rights organization. A lawyer representing the founders of Qatif-based Adala Center for Human Rights received the verdict papers last month, and a member of the center told Riyadh Bureau today that they have filed an appeal of the verdict.

The three judges presiding over the case said in their ruling that they found MOSA’s refusal to register Adala as a licensed organization compatible with laws and regulations. MOSA has argued that their decision to deny a license to Adala was on the basis that they can only license charities, and that the activities of Adala are not covered by the Ministry’s definition of what is a charity.

The fact that Adala’s principles and goals are based on international laws and accords like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also of concern to the judges who said these “man-made laws” do not comply with Islamic Sharia.

“Using these man-made laws without reservations as it is evident in the Center’s charter violates Article 7 of the Basic Law of Governance,” the judges said. The Basic Law of Governance serves as a proto-constitution in Saudi Arabia where the uncodified tenets of Islamic Sharia remain the supreme law and judges, most of them trained as clerics, are granted excessive power to issue rulings according to their own interpretation of the law.

The kingdom does not currently have a law to license and regulate civil society organizations. The Shoura Council, a consultative body whose members are appointed by the King, discussed in 2006 a draft law for civil society organizations. The Council approved the draft law on January 6, 2008 and the proposal was sent to the Cabinet to get the final approval before implementation.

However, the Cabinet is yet to approve the draft law. The proposal remains in the drawers of the Cabinet despite repeated pleas from activists and members of the Shoura Council over the past five years to give it the green light.

Zaid al-Hussain, vice president of the government-run Human Rights Commission, told the daily al-Madina on Wednesday that he expects the new civil society law to be issued soon. The same thing has been said last September by former member of the Shoura Council Abdulrahman al-Enad, but there are still no signs that the release of this law is imminent.

The lack of a legal framework means that many activists and youth groups involved with civil society activities are operating in a grey zone. Without proper licensing, they cannot raise money, organize events or have a space of their own to hold meetings.

Founders of the Adala Center for Human Rights were hoping that winning their case against the Ministry of Social Affairs, which remained in courts for over 18 months, could set a legal precedent and encourage others to follow suit. According to its website, the center was established in December 10, 2011 by 21 founding members, including three women. Since then, Adala has wroked to document and report on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, especially in the Eastern Province that has witnessed frequent protests since March 2011.

Adala is one of several local human rights groups operating in the country without proper licensing. The National Society for Human Rights, established in 2004 with support from late King Fahad, is the only human rights group operating legally in the Saudi Arabia.

‘Human Rights Horror Show’

David Mizner:

At a recent energy conference, Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, had reassuring words for attendees. “If Saudi Arabia were to become unhinged,” he said, “the consequences are almost impossible to imagine—politically, economically, at every level. But I don’t see it happening.”

This might not be a wise bet. While the regime won’t fall any time soon, it probably won’t be able to preside for many years over a population that’s increasingly young, wired, and unemployed. And if there’s one thing we should’ve learned from ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, it’s that the stability created by repression is illusory.

Saudi Security Forces Arrest Wanted Man in Qatif

Saudi security forces arrested a wanted man following an exchange of fire for allegedly taking part in protests in the Eastern Province, the Interior Ministry spokesman said on Monday.

The spokesman told the state news agency that security forces moved to arrest the wanted man Abbas al-Mazraa “after receiving information about the whereabouts of him and 8 other men accused of drug trafficking in a house in Awwamiya, where they were raided and arrested.”

Security forces came under heavy fire to prevent them from arresting the wanted men, the spokesman said, but there have been no injuries.

Al-Mazraa’s name appeared on a list of 23 wanted persons by the government in connection to protest demonstrations in Qatif, eastern Saudi Arabia. In the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency the spokesman urged the remaining suspects on the same list to “quickly hand themselves over to security bodies.”

Local news site Rasid said the raid has resulted in a blaze that brunt down the house where the man was arrested with some of his brothers. Al-Mazraa’s mother and sisters were briefly detained, according to unnamed sources cited by the site. The raid also damaged cars parked in the street and neighboring offices, Rasid said.

Qatif has been rocked by sporadic violence since March 2011 as residents from the Shia minority clashed with security forces to protest what they say is discrimination by the Saudi government. Saudi authorities deny that they discriminate against Shia citizens and describe the protests as isolated riots.

Morsi Al Rabah, another man on the list of 23, was killed last month.

Liberal Forum Founder Sentenced to Jail and Flogging

A Saudi judge sentenced the founder of a liberal Internet forum to jail and flogging, his lawyer said on Monday. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes, his lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair said on Twitter.

The judge also ordered the closure of the Internet forum, the lawyer said, although the site has been actually shut down following Badawi’s arrest in June 2012.

Badawi has been on trial in the coastal city of Jeddah. The government is accusing him of violating Islamic values, breaking Sharia law, blasphemy and mocking religious symbols using a website on the internet.

Last December Badawi was referred to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a charge that could lead to the death penalty, but that charge was later dismissed because “it was not proven to the judges that the accused has insulted God or the Prophet,” his lawyer said.

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged the Saudi government to drop charges against Badawi and release him.

Riyadh Metro: Saudi Awards $22.5 Billion Contracts


The Saudi Arabian government awarded $22.5 billion in contracts to three foreign-led consortia on Sunday for the design and construction of a metro rail system in the capital Riyadh.

The project, which will involve six rail lines extending 176 kilometers (110 miles) and carrying electric, driverless trains, is the world’s largest public transport system currently under development, Saudi officials said.

The project is expected to be completed in 2019.

Why They Censor

Abdul-Rahman al-Hazzaa, president of the newly established Saudi Radio and Television Authority, writes:

When a journalist or a program are banned, or when a newspaper is censored, then the matter must have crossed the line and reached the stage of opposing the country’s direction and its supreme interests. There are religious, national, political and social considerations that every journalist must keep before their eyes to avoid rushing into their search for fame and stardom. Someone may say: goodbye to restrictions and limits on movement as people now can use the modern tools of media and communications to fly freely, say and write whatever they want. But does that mean leaving the door wide open? The answer is: No. Concerned authorities must address anything that could harm the interests of the country and its people in any aspect of life, even if it necessitated censorship and bans. The effect of what is said and written in media is not limited to who said or wrote as it could affect others inside and outside the country, therefore every violator must be dealt with according to what achieves greater good.

The official’s defense of censorship comes few days after authorities here banned two talk shows and the host of a third one in the same week.

Saudi Arabia Bans Two Television Talk Shows

Saudi authorities banned two new talk shows this week in a step that renewed concerns about tolerance for freedom of expression in the kingdom.

Moderate cleric Salman al-Odah said Thursday on Twitter that he was informed by the newly established General Authority for Audio and Visual Media that his show “You Have Rights” has been banned. Two days earlier, a talk show called “140” on the conservative al-Majd channel was also banned.

Al-Odah is a well-known preacher who recently called on the government to begin implementing reforms or risk facing a wave of popular anger on Saudi streets. In an open letter published online last March al-Odah said current government policies could lead to disastrous consequences.

“People here, like people around the world, have demands, longings and rights, and they will not remain silent forever when they are denied all or some of them,” al-Odah said. “When one becomes hopeless, you can expect anything from them.”

This is not the first time for al-Odah to have his television show banned. In 2011, al-Odah’s weekly talk show broadcasted by the MBC network was terminated after he expressed favorable views of the Arab uprisings.

Al-Odah is widely considered as one of the most popular clerics in the country. He was detained in the mid-1990s when he helped mobilize an Islamist opposition against the government. After he was release in 1999, his views have become more moderate. This shift towards moderation helped him attract a large following, especially among young Saudis.

In a related development, two sources said the host of another talk show was banned. Abdullah al-Modifer, who hosts the daily “Fi al-Sameem” show on Rotana Khalejia, did not appear in the seat that he has occupied everyday for the past two weeks as host of the show. The two sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the case.

The latest episode of the daily show was aired on Thursday with a different host.

Coming of Age

Phil Hoad on Haifa al-Mansour’s feature film debut:

Wadjda’s marketability blinds us to the fact it’s part of a bigger story that receives little sustained attention: the difficulties faced by Arab film-makers, men and women, across the region. In the Gulf especially, authorities rarely understand cinema that is only just beginning to shift in less conservative regimes, like Qatar and the UAE, let alone in Saudi Arabia. That means a poor skills base from which directors such as al-Mansour – who is lucky enough to be foreign-educated and supported by a progressive figure like Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal – can draw.

Saudi Rights Group Criticizes Arrests of Islamists

The Saudi National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) expressed concern over reports of arresting an Islamist activist and a popular cleric, local news site Sabq reported on Sunday. Activist Mohsen al-Awaji and cleric Mohammad al-Arefi are said to have been arrested last week.

“If reports on social media sites about the arrests of Dr. Mohsen al-Awaji and Sheikh Mohammad al-Arefi are accurate, and that it is related to positions they have expressed about current events, then this violates Saudi commitments to human rights stated in regional and international accords,” said NSHR spokesman Saleh al-Khathlan in a statement quoted by Sabq.

The government has not made any statements about al-Awaji or al-Arefi, and the circumstances of their arrests remain unclear. Saad al-Arefi, brother of the cleric, said on Twitter it is “inaccurate” to describe what happened to his brother Mohammad as an arrest. “He is on a mission that will end soon, and is in constant contact with his family,” Saad said.

However, London-based Saudi site Elaph cited unnamed sources close to al-Arefi who confirmed that he has been arrested and banned from leaving the country. The same applies to al-Awaji, the site said.

The controversial al-Arefi is a popular preacher, especially among Saudi youth, and he boasts more than 5 million followers on Twitter. His last tweet was posted ten minutes after midnight on July 21.

Observers said Al-Arefi’s arrest could be related to a passionate speech he gave in Cairo last month where he called for jihad in Syria. Although, the Saudi government has been actively supporting the Syrian opposition aiming to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, authorities here have warned against encouraging youth to join the fight in Syria.

King Abdullah said in April that those who mislead the youth deserve severe punishment. Few weeks later Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Alsheikh described the calls for jihad in Syria as a “betrayal against the state,” according to al-Watan daily.

Al-Arefi was scheduled to give a speech in Doha, Qatar on Friday. Journalist Abdul-Elah al-Qahtani said on Twitter the preacher has told the organizers that he has been banned from travel. The Qatari organizers confirmed on Friday afternoon that al-Arefi will not make it to the event.

As for Mohsen al-Awaji, his arrest came few days after he criticized the government domestic and foreign policy during a television interview on the conservative al-Majd channel. Al-Awaji was also one of the lead signatories on a statement published on July 10 expressing support to overthrown Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and calling on protesters in Rabaa al-Adawiya to stand their ground until “stolen legitimacy is restored.”

UPDATE: Al-Awaji’s newphew tweeted early Monday that his uncle has been released:

UPDATE 2: Preacher Mohammed al-Arefi has been released too, according to his brother: