UN human rights office voices concern at treatment of Saudi activist

20 December 2013

The United Nations voiced deep concern today about the intimidation and prosecution of individuals in Saudi Arabia for exercising certain fundamental freedoms, noting in particular the treatment of an activist who seemed to have been targeted for his work on civil and political rights.

“We call on Saudi authorities to immediately release all those imprisoned for exercise of their fundamental human rights,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a news conference in Geneva.

Ms. Shamdasani cited the recent case of 23-year-old Omar bin Mohammed Al-Saeed, who was reportedly sentenced to four years in prison and 300 lashes. He is also reportedly banned from travelling for a further four years after his release from jail.

Charges against him included defaming the King, preparing, storing and transmitting material prejudicial to the public order, and disseminating defamatory information on the Internet, apparently in relation to a Tweet in which he reportedly advocated for a constitutional monarchy.

He was also charged with membership of an unregistered organisation, Ms. Shamdasani said. The sentencing took place in a closed session on 12 December in the city of Buraidah, without the presence of his lawyer. According to reports, at an earlier hearing, Mr. Al-Saeed appeared in court handcuffed and leg-cuffed.

“It appears that Mr. Al-Saeed was targeted in relation to his work on civil and political rights with a Saudi NGO [non-governmental organization] known as HASEM. We have received reports that several other members of HASEM and other activists have already been jailed in similar circumstances or are under investigation by the national security agency, Mabahith,” Ms. Shamdasani stated.

She added that the reported treatment of Mr. Al-Saeed suggests that his due process rights may not have been respected. “The use of corporal punishment amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and can even amount to torture under international human rights law,” she noted.

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