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In Saudi Arabia, human rights defenders (HRDs) work under the intense scrutiny of the secret police, or al-mabahith. They face harassment, surveillance, arbitrary detention, smear campaigns, and unfair trials. A number of instances of torture against detained human rights defenders have been reported. Family members of HRDs are also liable to intimidation and harassment at the hands of the authorities.
In March 2011, peaceful protests were met with arbitrary arrests and violent repression and public gatherings were subsequently banned by the authorities. Human rights defenders, democracy activists and critical voices rely on the internet and online media for their work. Many of them have been arrested for expressing criticism of the regime.
The increased use of the internet and online media has been met with the adoption of increasingly restrictive legislation on electronic media. A new law which came into effect in February 2011 required all online publications including blogs to acquire a licence from the Ministry of Information. The law allows for the censoring of any information that may be considered a threat to “national security” or to be violating Islamic Sharia law, and allows for the prosecution of those responsible. In July 2012, the Shura Council announced that it was drafting a law to punish individuals who criticise Islam through the use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
Many websites have been blocked because they encouraged people to join civic campaigns and demonstrations or contained information deemed politically sensitive. Facebook pages of prominent human rights defenders have been blocked and the websites of several international NGOs remain inaccessible from Saudi Arabia.
Freedom of association is virtually non-existent. Human rights NGOs, such as the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), have systematically been refused registration.
Particularly affecting human rights defenders is the absence of an official Penal Code, which allows for discretion on the side of the authorities as to what constitutes a crime and what the punishment for a crime is. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Minister of Interior is given the executive authority to decide which crimes are punishable. Another contributing factor is the vagueness of legal provisions which may be used against HRDs, including Article 39 of the Saudi 1992 Basic Law of Government which prohibits “all acts that foster sedition or division or harm the state's security and its public relations”. Several HRDs are currently on trial for charges including breaking allegiance to the king.
29 January 2013
14 March 2012
27 February 2012
26 January 2012
13 June 2011
Saudi Arabia: Human rights defenders Messrs. Mohammad bin Fahad Al-Qahtani and Abu-Belal Abdullah al-Hamid receive harsh imprisonment sentences and travel bans
Saudi Arabia: Verdict in trial of human rights defender Mr Mikhlif Al-Shammari postponed indefinitely
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