Systemic human rights violations in the US-backed Saudi kingdom

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Dhia-Allah

Safar 07, 1433 2012-01-01

News & Analysis

by Yusuf Dhia-Allah

The Saudi regime has adopted a three-pronged strategy to deal with the storm that has erupted since the Islamic Awakening swept the Muslim East more than a year ago. Soon after two dictators — General Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and General Hosni Mubarak of Egypt — were driven from power in quick succession, Saudi King Abdullah announced billions of dollars in handouts to buy people’s loyalty. This was accompanied by a vicious sectarian campaign to divert people’s attention from the regime’s own illegitimacy. Proof of this came in the manner in which Saudi troops were rushed to shore up the minority Khalifa family in Bahrain but then in a complete reversal of policy, the Saudi regime launched a campaign to undermine the Bashar al-Asad minority regime in Syria. In both instances, sectarian rhetoric and crude divisive tactics were used. But even these were not considered adequate to deal with the danger of an uprising inside the kingdom.

To clamp down on any manifestations of demands for reform and opening up the system, the regime has used brutal tactics to suppress them.In a stinging 73-page report released on December 1, 2011, Amnesty International accused the Saudi regime of arresting hundreds of people for demanding political and social reforms or for calling for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial. “The abusive practices being employed by the Saudi Arabian government are worryingly similar to those which they have long used against people accused of terrorist offences,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International. The Amnesty report said that since February 2011, when sporadic demonstrations began — in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests — the Saudi government had carried out a crackdown that included the arrest of mainly Shi‘i Muslims in the restive Eastern Province, but also others. (Amnesty had also issued a damning report against the Saudi regime in July 2009 in which it detailed the plight of hundreds of people detained without charge or trial).

Concerns raised in the recent Amnesty report were vindicated only 10 days later when the Saudi regime refused permission for activists and lawyers to open a human rights centre in the country. Coinciding with International Human Rights Day (12-10-2011), a group of 21 prominent lawyers and activists of both sexes, applied for a permit to establish the ‘Adalah (Justice) Center for Human Rights. Copies of the application letter were also sent to King Abdullah, Crown Prince and Minister of Interior Nayef bin Abdulaziz as well as the Minister of Social Affairs. The official Human Rights Commission and the National Society for Human Rights also received a copy.Represented by the respected human rights activist Sadek al-Ramadan, the Center’s aim is to monitor and document human rights cases and to educate citizens and immigrant expatriates on their legal rights. The ministry, however, rejected the application on the grounds that the objectives of the Center did not go along with the “rules of procedures of Associations Law.”

The Center’s representatives said they would appeal the rejection. While the Saudi regime was clamping down hard on calls for reform or refusing to allow human rights centers to be opened, not to mention prohibiting women from driving cars, their human rights record came in for scrutiny in the British House of Lords. This must be deeply worrying for the secretive Saudis who want to keep everything under the lid. On 12-12-2011, Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, a British peer of Pakistani origin, rose up in the House of Lords and drew attention to the plight of women in the kingdom. He said: “Women are not allowed to drive or vote, women remain subject to discrimination both in law and practice, women are not allowed to travel, engage in paid work or higher education or marry without the permission of a male guardian.”

Lord Ahmed’s concerns were taken up by Shadow Leader of the House, Baroness Royall who said she “shared the deep concern” of peers about human rights in Saudi Arabia. “As true friends of Saudi Arabia, I think it is our duty to speak honestly about what is happening in that country,” she said, declaring that Saudi Arabia was “an important ally in global and regional security… a nation with whom we have very important trading relations.” Given the deep commercial and political links between the British and Saudi governments, it was unlikely that the British government would allow such scathing criticism of their Arabian ally go unanswered even if what was said was fully documented and corroborated by organizations like Amnesty International. Thus, British government foreign affairs spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said in response to criticism of the Saudi regime: “I am conscious that the rights of women were very limited in Britain until less than 150 years ago. We gradually reformed our laws and social attitudes over several generations… we of course request the Saudis to pass through the same evolutionary process but at a much faster pace.”

One can immediately notice the British government peer’s “request” to the Saudi regime; no demand was made. Similarly, there was admission that just as Britain had gone through an evolutionary process 150 years ago the Saudi regime must also go through the same process but at a little “faster pace”. The British government, however, was not going to specify what that faster pace might be, nor is it about to forego the lucrative contracts with the Saudi regime that involve a lot of corruption when such contracts are signed. As far as the British government is concerned, money talks. In Saudi Arabia’s case, there is a lot of money involved and Britain, already suffering from terrible financial decline, is not about to jeopardize such relations. The human rights of Saudi citizens will have to wait and take a back seat. The spotlight on Saudi human rights abuses, however, must be deeply worrying for the kingdom’s rulers.

The 1-27-2012 press release by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) can only add to Saudi woes. The IHRC issued an appeal on behalf of a university professor Dr. Bisher Fahad al-Bisher who has been incarcerated in a Saudi prison for nearly four years without charge or trial. He has been kept in solitary confinement in inhumane conditions. Routine family visits are denied. According to IHRC, Dr. al-Bisher’s detention not only violates international law but Saudi law as well. His treatment over the past few years has had a terrible effect on his health. Professor of Religious Science at a University in Riyadh, 52-year-old Dr. Bisher Fahad al-Bisher, has been in detention since March 15, 2007. He was allegedly targeted by the Saudi Investigative Police (al-Mabahith al-Amma) due to his outspoken criticism of the regime’s policies within his academic teachings and a personal website which has since been shut down.For the first nine months after his arrest, his family had no information as to his whereabouts or fate.

Finally, in December 2007, Dr. Al-Bisher was allowed a visit from his family in al-Alisha detention centre that is controlled by al-Mahabith forces. His family was horrified at the effects of ill treatment on his health and the months he had spent in solitary confinement. His condition did not improve and he continued to be detained in a freezing underground cell while handcuffed and blindfolded for prolonged periods. Recently Dr. al-Bisher was transferred to al-Hayr prison near Riyadh and has been granted family visitation once a month. But he is still denied medical attention and legal counsel and has not been brought before a judge since his arrest. His arrest and detention are in clear violation of Article 104 of the Saudi Law of Criminal Procedure which states the need “to admit the accused into a detention center after explaining the offense with which he is charged and the basis thereof”. Such terrible mistreatment of detainees is a gross violation of Islamic and other laws. Only constant exposure of such crimes by the Saudi regime will force them to adhere to proper legal procedures and to respect the rights of all the people — their own citizens as well as the large expatriate community in the kingdom.

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