Thursday, January 22, 2015

Closing Our Eyes to Human Rights Issues in Saudi Arabia

Since September 11th, 2001, governments around the world have taken steps to reduce the threat of terrorism and, as we found out through the revelations of Edward Snowden, many of these actions include reductions to our privacy.  While we generally concern ourselves with how Western nations have responded to the possibility of terrorism, we tend to forget that one nation has passed so-called anti-terrorism laws that are extremely repressive.  This is particularly pertinent given the recent blogger, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to receive 1000 lashes, fifty at a time, once a week along with ten years in jail and a $275,000 fine as shown on this video:

Mr. Badawi's blog criticized the role of Islam in Saudi Arabia; he was charged with "ridiculing Islamic religious figures" and was originally sentenced to 600 lashes and 7 years in prison, a sentence that was increased in May 2014 to its current level.

Back in early 2014, Saudi Arabia passed its newly minted Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing.  According to Human Rights Watch, this law is flawed with age provisions that allow authorities to criminalize free expression as well as granting police forces powers that have no oversight from the judicial side of the Saudi justice system.

Here is the Saudi definition of a "terrorist crime":

"An act committed by an offender in furtherance of a criminal enterprise, whether individually or collectively, directly or indirectly, which is intended to disturb public order, or undermine the security of society and the stability of the state or which endangers national unity, the Constitution (Basic Law) or any part thereof, or which defames the state or position, or causes damage to a state facility or natural resource, or which attempts to compel an officer or employee to take action or refrain from taking action within the scope of his duties due to threats."

This definition of terrorism is unlike that in most Western nations where terrorism is generally defined to include violence or other acts that are intended to instil terror in the general population with a goal of forcing governments to take or refrain from taking a certain position on an issue.

It is important to note that the law not only applies inside the Saudi kingdom, it also applies to:

"...anyone, whether of Saudi or foreign nationality, who commits or aids and abets in the commission of an offense described in this law while outside the kingdom of law whose aim is the following:

1 - Regime change in Saudi Arabia.
2 - Abolition of the Constitution or any part thereof
3 - Download State to do or abstain.
4 - Assault on Saudis abroad.
5 - Damage to Saudi public property abroad, including embassies or other diplomatic or consular premises.
6 - Commission of a terrorist crime while on board a Saudi-flagged or registered vessel or means of transport.
7 - Commission of an act undertaken to sabotage the economy, undermine national security or social interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Those who are arrested can be detained for a period of up to six months to permit the Saudi authorities to investigate the offence.  If the offence requires further investigation, detention can be extended for another six months and for an unlimited period of time if a court order is granted.  Detainees are not released on bail unless the release is authorized by order of the Minister of the Interior.  During an investigation, authorized representatives of the Minister of the Interior do not require a warrant to enter and search the homes and offices of a potential offender.  Detainees can also be held incommunicado for 60 to 90 days after arrest.  According to the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on Torture, torture is most likely to occur during the period of time when the detainee is not allowed to contact the outside world as shown here:

"Torture is most frequently practised during incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention should be made illegal, and persons held incommunicado should be released without delay. Information regarding the time and place of arrest as well as the identity of the law enforcement officials having carried out the arrest should be scrupulously recorded; similar information should also be recorded regarding the actual detention, the state of health upon arrival at the detention centre, as well as the time the next of kin and lawyer were contacted and visited the detainee. Legal provisions should ensure that detainees are given access to legal counsel within 24 hours of detention. "

As we can see in this video, Saudi police are far from reluctant to use torture:

These aspects of the new law completely undermines the concept of due process, granting the Interior Minister, currently Prince Muhammad bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, a member of the Saudi Royal family and a potential successor to King Abdullah, unfettered power. 

I found this part particularly interesting.  The Saudi kingdom is setting up "specialized centres...for the purposes of the rehabilitiation of those arrested and convicted of any offenses under this law in order to correct their thoughts and strengthen their community ties."  Investigative authorities can also admit  individuals that have been informed upon and that are suspected and feared into the rehabilitation centres rather than detaining them.

Human Rights Watch notes that this new so-called terrorism law is extremely broad and that it allows Saudi authorities to criminalize free speech, particularly speech that is against the Saudi royal family.  Saudis are not allowed to participate in or promote sit-ins, protests or meetings that may harm the "unity or stability of the kingdom".  

Saudi Arabia has a long history of persecuting and prosecuting dissidents.  Human rights activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani, founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, are currently serving eleven and ten year sentences respectively for "breaking allegiances with the ruler, spreading chaos and destabilizing public order and questioning the integrity of officials".  Their crime?  The two men and a group of other reformists signed a petition calling for Crown Prince Nayef to be removed as Crown Prince because he was "not fit to be the next king", largely because during his tenure as Minister of the Interior, tens of thousand so detainees had been poorly treated.

What I always find amazing is the West's hypocrisy when it comes to dealing with the repressive Saudi regime.  When other nations such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea et al crush human rights, governments from Canada, the United States and Europe are quick to offer condemnation.  When Saudi Arabia crushes free speech, it's okay because, after all, the West needs their world-class supply of oil to grease the wheels of the developed world's economy.

...and, just in case we wondered how concerned Saudi Arabia is about terrorism, they are so spooked by the prospect of ISIS in Iraq that they are proposing to build a 1000 kilometre (600 mile) long wall along the border with Iraq as shown here.


  1. The second video shows the world what barbaric animals these escapees from the stone age really are. Absolutely disgusting behavior.

    At some point someone is going to drop the mother of all bombs on those savages, and turn the desert into glass. I won't shed a tear for the innocent victims... They, after all, have done NOTHING to make this stupid shit stop.

  2. The Saudis also have a wall built along the Yemen border. Not sure if it runs along the entire border or just part but they seem to like walls. As US Foreign policy goes as long as they are “OUR” guys they can do as they please, it’s the ones that aren’t on board with what the US wants the are the problem.

    1. The wall is being built to reduce smuggling drugs

    2. Nope to protect the corrupted dark age ...piggy regime!

  3. Lot of anonymity here, unfortunately. I do not understand the support given the ruling family by America. Anything to keep the Middle East and Central Asia in an uproar, I guess.

  4. I do not know if you do requests, but can you do a post explaining the impact of a country being unable to pay its debts and defaulting? What is the impact on the country and on its creditors? Argentina has done this. Russia did it in 1998 (after getting enough cash from the IMF that the oligarchs were able to get out of rubles). Right now Ukraine and Russia are sitting in default position and the new government in Greece may well tell its creditors (the Troika) to take a hike.