“Saudi Arabia’s human rights record came under scrutiny again this week after seven men were publicly executed and a court sentenced two prominent civil rights activists to jail,” writes The Lede’s Christine Hauser:
On Wednesday, the seven men, who had been arrested in 2005 and 2006 for armed robbery, were executed by firing squad. The executions drew criticism from a number of organizations including the European Union and the United Nations, which alleged that their confessions were coerced and that some of them men were arrested as juveniles. Amnesty International called the punishment an act of “sheer brutality.”
The 10-year prison sentences a Saudi court handed down are “more significant than the sad fate of two moderate political activists who persisted in calling for a constitutional monarchy and respect for human rights,” Karen Elliott House writes for the Washington Post.
“The saga is a microcosm of the political dilemma facing the House of Saud and, by extension, a challenge to U.S. policy, which from one administration to the next supports the regime while remaining silent about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses,” says House, the author of On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines — and Future:
The two dissidents, Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid (above) were accused of, among other things, sedition, providing inaccurate information to the foreign media and founding an unlicensed human rights organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (known as ACPRA). Saudi Arabia permits no civil society or political organizations. But Qahtani, a chubby, cherub-faced man in his mid-40s, determined long ago that he would seek to change the kingdom. In 2009 he told me that he would “challenge and change the system legally,” so that his young children would live in a freer society.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for Saudi Arabia to release the two activists immediately and highlighted the limitations on freedom of association and expression in the kingdom:
Since 2008, ACPRA has attempted to get formal recognition as an NGO by applying for a license from the state, but the request has never been granted. Nevertheless, the Saudi government has permitted ACPRA to operate unofficially since 2009. The National Society for Human Rights – established in 2004 by the late King Fahd – is the sole government-licensed domestic human rights NGO in Saudi Arabia.
“Qahtani’s campaign against the judiciary holding Saudis without charge was taken up on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook but also by shrouded Saudi women — mothers, wives and daughters of imprisoned men who began regularly to protest at the Interior Ministry in Riyadh,” writes for the Post:
Worse yet to the regime, some clerics supported the women by asking the king to quickly resolve the issue. Moreover, the protests spread to Buraidah, heartland of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam, where in February women fearlessly burned a photo of the new interior minister in front of security cameras.
“If the Ministry ignores this new activism, it is a disaster for its authority,” Saudi political scientist Madawi al-Rashid predicted on the Al-Monitor Web site on Feb. 28. “If it suppresses it, it is a catastrophe, as Saudis may not always be tolerant of security agencies messing with their women.”