NGOs around the world call on their governments to publicly engage with Saudi Arabia to call for the release of detained writers and activists, and to issue strong recommendations to end restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

More than thirty NGOs  signed an open letter urging their governments to “raise concerns about Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record and to press for urgently needed reforms” during the Saudi Arabia’s upcoming 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2018 and ahead of the 39th Session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC 39) in September.

“We call upon your government to publicly engage with Saudi Arabia during the forthcoming HRC as well as the UPR in November, to call for the release of detained writers and activists, and to issue strong recommendations to end restrictions on the right to freedom of expression,” Said the letter.

The organizations said that Saudi government does not recognize the right to freedom of expression and opinion. Rather, the kingdom’s de facto constitution – the Basic Law– grants authorities the power to “prevent whatever leads to disunity, sedition and division,” including peaceful criticism. It likewise proclaims that “mass and publishing media and all means of expression shall use decent language and adhere to State laws. Whatever leads to sedition and division, or undermines the security of the State or its public relations, or is injurious to the honor and rights of man, shall be prohibited.”

The letter said Saudi Arabia legislations empowers Saudi officials to arrest activists, journalists, writers, and bloggers who are accused of crimes related to religion, including blasphemy, atheism, and apostasy, as well as crimes filed under the counter-terror law related to speech critical of the royal family, government, or ruling structure.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia are accused of targeting activists and journalists critical of the Saudi regime. Tens of activists and journalists are currently in prison for speech crimes related to religion and critical expression of the government.

Among those currently in prison, blogger Raif Badawi, arrested in June 2012 on atheism charges for his writings and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes; Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, arrested in January 2014 on charges of atheism and apostasy for his poetry and serving a sentence of eight years in prison and 800 lashes– reduced from an initial death sentence; Saleh al-Shehi, a columnist for al-Watan, arrested on 8 February 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison after he discussed corruption and the royal court on television.

At least 15 other journalists, including Nadhir al-Majid, who was charged on 18 January 2017 with “slandering the ruler and breaking allegiance with him,” and Wajdi al-Ghazzawi, the owner of religious satellite broadcaster Al-Fajr Media Group, who was sentenced on 4 February 2014 to 12 years in prison after he criticized the government and accused it of corruption.

Source: DCMF + IFEX