Tolerance Begins at Home

Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch:

If the Saudi government intends to have any credibility in fostering religious dialogue and harmony, it must first put an immediate end to invoking religion to punish those who peacefully advocate principles and ideas that the government does not share.


Let Girls Play

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch:

All of Saudi Arabia’s women and girls should be able to enjoy the social, educational, and health benefits of taking part in sports. If the government can take down this barrier for private schools, it should give girls and women in publicly funded schools the same benefit.

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.

Sweeping Injustices

From the chapter on Saudi Arabia in Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2013:

Saudi Arabia in 2012 stepped up arrests and trials of peaceful dissidents, and responded with force to demonstrations by citizens. Authorities continue to suppress or fail to protect the rights of 9 million Saudi women and girls and 9 million foreign workers. As in past years, thousands of people have received unfair trials or been subject to arbitrary detention. The year has seen trials against half-a-dozen human rights defenders and several others for their peaceful expression or assembly demanding political and human rights reforms.

Still Perpetual Minors

HRW’s Minky Worden writes about the infamous text messages:

The yellow-slip system was both discriminatory and cumbersome. But all the text-message system does is to use modern technology to enforce a retrograde double standard that denies women control over their own travel.

A tiny bright spot in this sad situation is that Internet-based communication is also giving a voice to Saudi women to demand equal treatment. Manal al-Sharif pointed out this month that “the small fact of the SMS story gives you the idea of the bigger problem with the whole guardianship system.”

It is jarring to see a government use the latest digital technology to enforce medieval treatment of women. One hopes at least that digital technology can increasingly give voice to courageous women fighting for equality, and for their supporters outside Saudi Arabia to press for structural reform of the kingdom’s backward policies.

Rights Group Urges Saudi Government to Drop Charges Against Activist

The Saudi government should drop all charges against Raif Badawi, the detained activist and founder of a liberal forum, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Badawi’s life hangs in the balance because he set up a liberal website that provided a platform for an open and peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia needs to stop treating peaceful debate as a capital offense.”

Badawi was arrested in Jeddah last June, and he has been on trial for the past few months. The government is accusing him of violating Islamic values, breaking Sharia law, blasphemy and mocking religious symbols using a website on the internet. Last Monday, a judge at a lower court in Jeddah referred Badawi to a higher court, saying he “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy,” according a rights activist who spoke to AFP.

The case against Badawi aims “to punish him and intimidate others who dare to debate matters of religion,” Goldstein said. “The authorities should drop the charges against him.”