GENEVA (2 January 2018) – Top United Nations human rights experts* have deplored Saudi Arabia’s continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders, urging it to end the repression and release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights.

Religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and civic activists are being targeted, along with members of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), in a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention”, the experts said.

“The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia,” said the group in a joint statement.

“We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work. The Government has ignored repeated calls by UN experts and others to halt these violations, rectify them, and prevent their recurrence.”

More than 60 prominent religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and civic activists are reported to have been detained in a wave of arrests since September, adding to a list of past cases which had already been raised by UN experts with the Government.

“We have written to the Government requesting detailed information about these numerous arrests on terrorism, cyber-crime or any other state security-related charges during that period,” the experts said.

“We are also seeking the Government’s clarification about how these measures are compatible with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international human rights law, as well as with the voluntary pledges and commitments it made when seeking to join the Human Rights Council.

“Despite being elected as member of the Human Rights Council at the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia has continued its practice of silencing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining and persecuting human rights defenders and critics.”

In addition to the new series of arrests since September and previous cases notified to the Government, the experts also pointed to Saudi Arabia’s failure to implement two recent opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (A/HRC/WGAD/2015/38 and A/HRC/WGAD/2017/63). In both cases, which involved 10 individuals, the Working Group determined that the detentions were arbitrary.

“We call for the release of all the human rights defenders concerned in these cases, and we appeal to the Saudi authorities to ensure their right to reparation and compensation,” the experts said.

The leading human rights defenders held since September include reformist Salman al-Awdah, an influential religious figure who has urged greater respect for human rights within Sharia; academic and writer Abdullah al-Maliki; entrepreneur Essam al-Zamel; and ACPRA founding members Abdulaziz Al Shubaily and Issa bin Hamid al-Hamid.

The UN experts stated: “These and a large number of previous unsolved cases depict a worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention in Saudi Arabia.

“Since the ACPRA was banned in 2013, we have witnessed with alarm the arrest, detention and prosecution of people peacefully voicing criticism of the Saudi Government’s policies and lawfully working to protect human rights.

Repeated calls by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s experts to curb the repression – the most recent of which was in May 2017 – have remained unheeded.


*The UN experts: Mr. Michel ForstSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary DetentionMr. David KayeSpecial Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

UN experts decry Saudi Arabia’s persistent use of anti-terror laws to persecute peaceful activists