Alwaght– In a surprising move, United Nations human rights experts called on Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to end the “repression” of rights activists and release dozens detained since September for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights.
In a statement, five UN experts condemned a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” through the Persian Gulf kingdom’s use of counter-terrorism and security laws.
More than 60 prominent clerics, writers, journalists, academics and activists are reported to have been detained in a wave of arrests since September, they said in a joint statement.
The crackdown on dissent has been denounced by several global human rights groups, but strong criticism by the UN of the US ally is rare.
There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi regime.
“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 five independent experts said.
They decried a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” through the kingdom’s use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws.
Prominent preacher Salman al-Awdah, whom the UN experts described as a “reformist” and an influential religious figure, who has urged greater respect for human rights within Sharia, is among those held, they said.
They also named academic and writer Abdullah al-Maliki, entrepreneur Essam al-Zamel, and Abdulaziz Al Shubaily and Issa bin Hamid al-Hamid of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association as detainees.
“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,” the experts said.
The statement did not mention the arrests in November of some 200 princes, ministers and business leaders who were then held in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in what seen as a move by crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman consolidation of power before the expected abdication of his father, the ailing King Salman.
Two years after execution of Sheikh Nimr
The UN statement comes two years after mass execution of 47 people, which included popular Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The Saudis executed Sheikh Nimr on January 2, defying international calls to release him. The execution sparked international condemnations and angry protests in many countries.
In 2017, 141 people were executed in Saudi Arabia, with 70 percent of the year’s executions carried out after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June, according to Reprieve.
In a separate statement issued on Tuesday, which highlighted the anniversary of Saudi’s mass execution two years ago, the human rights organization Reprieve warned of fresh repression under the new Saudi crown prince.
The group raised concerns for 14 political prisoners, including one arrested as a juvenile, who face imminent execution, after their death sentences were upheld in July 2017.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “Two years on from a mass execution that saw political protesters – including some arrested as children – killed, the government of Saudi Arabia shows no interest in halting a brutal wave of repression. Hundreds of people have been executed in the last two years, and now several young protesters face imminent execution on Mohammed bin Salman’s watch. The international community – including Theresa May, who is soon to host the new crown prince – must hold him to his promises of ‘reform’ by demanding a halt to all executions immediately.”
Saudi Arabia remains the major US ally in the West Asia region and the alliance was cemented by US Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May last year. Washington is therefore complicit in the repression carried out by the Riyadh regime inside the country and also war crimes in neighboring Yemen where the Saudi regime has killed some 14,000 people since March 2015. The tools of repression in Saudi Arabia are acquired from Western countries and especially the US.