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One year on: UN group renews call for Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists

GENEVA (17 November 2016) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has renewed its call for Saudi Arabia to release nine human rights activists who were jailed after participating in activities relating to the promotion and protection of human rights.

The men should be freed immediately as their detention is in violation of international human rights standards, according to the expert panel which assesses cases independently in the light of international law.

The expert panel said there had still been no move to free the men, one year after it had delivered its formal opinion* that their deprivation of liberty is arbitrary, being in contravention of articles 9, 10, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The Working Group reiterates its call for the immediate release of the detainees and the provision of reparations for the harm caused,” the group said. “We would like to remind Saudi Arabia of its obligations vis-à-vis these individuals, and we also recommend that it releases all those in similar situations.”

Most of the jailed activists had ties with the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), a prominent human rights group which worked for legal, political and constitutional reform until it was banned by the Government in 2013.
 
The men are serving jail terms of between 4 and 15 years after being convicted of, inter alia, “forming an unlicensed organization”; “seeking to disrupt security and inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations”; “harming the image of the State by disseminating false information to foreign groups.”. The nine – Sheikh Suliaman al-Rashudi, Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abdulkareem Yousef al-Khoder, Mohammed Saleh al-Bajadi, Omar al-Hamid al-Sa’id, Raif Badawi, Fadhel al-Manasif, and Waleed Abu al-Khair – include some of ACPRA’s founding members.

“Other prisoners being held in similar circumstances should also be freed”, the group added, as their continued detention could contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
 
The UN Working Group first raised concerns about the nine detainees a year ago, finding that the men whose cases they reviewed had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty as a result of exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and some had not received fair trials. 

The Working Group expresses its concern about the consistent pattern of arbitrary arrests and detention in Saudi Arabia and the persecuting human rights defenders in retaliation of their work.

In light of the reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the Working Group also urges the Government to respect a ban on torture and other ill-treatment, in line with its commitment to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

ACPRA, one of only a handful of independent civil society organizations in the country, was advocating for a government based on the rule of law, with a constitution, independent judiciary, separation of powers, popular representation and government accountability.

The Working Group’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai.

(*) Check the advance unedited version of the Working Group’s Opinion on the ACPRA case (N° 38/2015): http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions2015AUV/Opinion%202015%2038_SaudiArabia_Sheikh_al_Rashudi%20and%20et_final_AUV.pdf

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is comprised of five independent experts from various regions of the world: Mr. Sètondji Roland Jean-Baptiste Adjovi (current Chair-Rapporteur, Benin), Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Vice-Chair on Communications, Mexico), Ms. Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair on Follow-up, Australia), Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea) and Ms. Elina Steinerte (Latvia). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights Country Page, Saudi Arabia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/SAIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Lucie Viersma (+41 22 928 9380/lviersma@ohchr.org) or write to wgad@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org

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