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Press briefing notes on Central African Republic, Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 20 December 2013

(1) Central African Republic

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has warned that the situation in the Central African Republic remains highly volatile, with ongoing violence, intimidation and a governance vacuum. The reported involvement of armed elements from neighbouring countries heightens the risk of a crisis that, if left unchecked, may become dangerously difficult to control, she has warned.

These developments are extremely worrying and should ring alarm bells around the world for sustained and urgent efforts to be taken to prevent the country from plunging into disaster.

The High Commissioner warned that religious differences were being manipulated by political leaders, with deadly consequences, but highlighted the laudable efforts of some religious leaders in defusing tensions.

A press release, in English and French, will be issued shortly on the situation in the Central African Republic.

(2) Egypt
The raiding of a human rights NGO and the arrest of six of its members in Cairo on Wednesday night marks a worrying escalation in the harassment and intimidation of civil society in Egypt. At least 50 armed men in civilian clothes, who were later identified as police and security officers, raided the office of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights late on Wednesday night. Six people who were working at the centre at the time were arrested and allegedly beaten, and three laptops, files and documents were seized. Two of the laptops were later returned.

Five of the individuals arrested were released after some nine hours in custody, during which time they were reportedly mistreated. One prominent human rights defender, Mohamed Adel Fahmi, a member of the April 6th movement, remains in detention, his whereabouts unknown.

We call on Egyptian authorities to immediately release all individuals who have been detained in relation to their work as human rights defenders. Intimidation of political opponents, activists and human rights defenders for peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association must be halted. An independent and impartial investigation needs to be conducted into the raid on the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.

(3) Saudi Arabia
We are deeply concerned about the intimidation and sometimes prosecution of individuals in Saudi Arabia for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In the most recent case, a 23-year-old man was reportedly sentenced to four years in prison and 300 lashes. Omar bin Mohammed Al-Saeed (Omar Al-Saeed) is also reportedly banned from travelling for a further four years after his release from jail.

Charges against him included defaming the King, preparing, storing and transmitting material prejudicial to the public order, and disseminating defamatory information on the Internet, apparently in relation to a Tweet in which he reportedly advocated for a constitutional monarchy. He was also charged with membership of an unregistered organisation. The sentencing took place in a closed session on 12 December in the city of Buraidah, without the presence of his lawyer. According to reports, at an earlier hearing, Mr. Al-Saeed appeared in court handcuffed and leg-cuffed.

It appears that Mr. Al-Saeed was targeted in relation to his work on civil and political rights with a Saudi NGO known as HASEM. We have received reports that several other members of HASEM and other activists have already been jailed in similar circumstances or are under investigation by the national security agency, Mabahith.

We call on Saudi authorities to immediately release all those imprisoned for exercise of their fundamental human rights. The reported treatment of Mr. Al-Saeed suggests that his due process rights may not have been respected. The use of corporal punishment amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and can even amount to torture under international human rights law.

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact:
Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 10 88 / rcolville@ohchr.org )
Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 or +41 79 201 01 15/ rshamdasani@ohchr.org)
Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 34 30 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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