CIVICUS highlights escalating crackdown on civil society in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's dismal human and civil rights record continues as civil society members are subjected to heightened persecution in a show of blatant subversion of fundamental rights in the country. The Saudi government is resorting to a systematic crackdown on critical voices through the denial of registration to human rights groups, imposition of travel bans on activists and intimidation of human rights defenders through politically motivated legal proceedings.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, highlights the following recent developments in the country:

  • On 9 March 2013, the co-founders of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), Dr Mohammed Al Qahtani and Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, were sentenced to 10 and 11 years imprisonment by a Special Criminal Court on several politicized charges including "refusing to submit to the will of the King, "incitement" to commit offences and "communicating with foreign entities". The judge further ordered the immediate dissolution of human rights group, ACPRA, including confiscation of its assets and the closure of its website.

  • In the months of April and May 2013, four founding members of the Union for Human Rights (UHR) - Mohammed Abdullah al-Otaibi, Mohammed 'Ayedh al-Otaibi, Abdullah Faisal Badrani, and Abdullah 'Atawi – have been repeatedly questioned by the Riyadh prosecutor's office, accused of "establishing an illegal organization". UHR, which was established to foster greater respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia, has been unable to receive an operating licence. The organization has been forced to dissolve its operations while serious concerns persist that the Saudi authorities will invoke legal charges against UHR's founding members in the coming weeks.

  • The Saudi government is also increasingly resorting to the imposition of travel bans on prominent dissidents. Well known democratic reform advocate, Sheikh Mikhlif Al-Shammari was prevented from entering Bahrain on 8 April 2013 when he learnt that the Ministry of the Interior had placed a ten-year travel ban on him. Al-Shammari was released from prison in February 2012 following 20 months in arbitrary detention on charges of publishing writing deemed "disturbing to others". Sadek al-Ramadan, co-founder and secretary-general of the Adala Center for Human Rights, learned that the government has imposed a travel ban on him on 29 March 2013 while attempting to leave the country on vacation with his family. Days earlier, on 21 March 2013 Waleed Abu Alkhair, founder of the civil society group Human Rights Monitor, was prohibited from leaving the country to take part in the Democracy Fellows Program at Syracuse University in the United States for "security reasons".

CIVICUS urges the Government of Saudi Arabia to take all necessary measures to ensure the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society groups in the country. At a minimum, the Saudi Government must (i) allow space for the registration of independent human rights groups; (ii) remove arbitrary travel bans on pro-democracy activists; and (iii) immediately and unconditionally release all civil society activists, including Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid and Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtani.

Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS said:

"The recent clampdown on legitimate civil society groups only solidifies Saudi Arabia's unenviable position as one of worst persecutors of human rights defenders in the world."