Loan Torondel, 21, worked with L’Auberge des Migrants in Calais for two years, helping to provide legal information and support and humanitarian assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in northern France.

© 2018 Loan Torondel
(Paris) – An appeals court’s confirmation of the defamation conviction of an aid worker on June 24, 2019 for an ironic tweet sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. The case was a serious escalation in harassment and intimidation of aid workers in France

The Court of Appeal in Douai, northern France, found Loan Torondel, the aid worker, guilty of defamation for a tweet he published in early January 2018 and sentenced him to pay a 1,500 euro fine (about US$1,700), which it suspended, and ordered him to pay damages and court costs. It was the first defamation case against an aid worker in France for criticizing the French government’s actions against migrants. Torondel told Human Rights Watch that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation, France’s court of last resort.

“This decision against Loan Torondel is a worrying precedent and a blow to freedom of expression,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “It resonates as a pernicious intimidation against staff or volunteers for organizations that speak out against police abuses against migrants.”

In January 2018, while working for the Auberge des Migrants, which provides crucial assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, Torondel published a tweet criticizing abusive police practices toward migrants. This tweet, with a photo showing two police officers standing over a young man seated in a field, imagined that the young man was protesting against the confiscation of his sleeping bag in the middle of winter and that the officer replied: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir,” an allusion to a speech President Emmanuel Macron gave in late December 2017.

Torondel was prosecuted following a complaint by one of the police officers and was sentenced by the first instance by a court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on September 25.

Torondel worked with Human Rights Watch earlier in 2019, and the organization is about to resume the collaboration to research police practices during identity checks in France.

A volunteer operating in Calais, Tom Ciotkowski, was also prosecuted, for “insult and violence” after filming French police officers who were impeding a food distribution to migrants and asylum seekers by volunteers in Calais. But he was acquitted on June 20 by the Boulogne-sur-Mer court. 

Torondel's conviction and Ciotkowski’s prosecution expand on what aid workers have regularly described as harassment by the French police to hinder or prevent aid workers and volunteers supporting migrants and asylum seekers from carrying out their work in Calais.

The aid workers have reported repeated fines for minor infractions and parking violations, excessive use of identity checks, and temporary confiscations of mobile phones to look through or delete their content. In some cases, aid workers have reported being improperly sprayed with tear gas or pushed or insulted by police officers. 

Human Rights Watch, the French Defender of Rights, UN observers, and four associations in Calais reported abusive practices by the police in Calais, both against migrants and asylum seekers and against aid workers. Amnesty International recently published a detailed report on the criminalization and harassment of people defending refugee and migrant rights in northern France. 

Criminal defamation laws are a disproportionate and unnecessary restriction on free speech and create a “chilling effect” that effectively restricts legitimate as well as harmful speech. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), together with the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression, have called for the abolition of such laws.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has said that countries should take particular care to ensure that defamation laws – civil or criminal – “should never be used to prevent criticism of government” and “should reflect the principle that public figures are required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private citizens.”

“Obstructing assistance to migrants and bringing legal proceedings that criminalize the denunciation of abuses is a shameful tactic to deter solidarity,” Jeannerod said. “France should not go down this dangerous path, which reduces the working space of both aid workers and government critics.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Recent reports that the US monitored calls between members of President Trump’s campaign staff and Russian intelligence personnel have renewed controversy about the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), and how those bodies handle the information they collect. But anyone concerned about the scope or legality of the US government’s warrantless intelligence surveillance should also worry about the way these programs may affect the country’s border and immigrant communities.

A general view shows part of the Loma Blanca neighborhood as a section of the border fence marking the boundarie with El Paso, U.S. is seen on the background, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 18, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The US currently has two main “foreign” surveillance powers it can—in practice—use to obtain and sift through information on people within its borders without a warrant. (We do not yet know whether either of these was the legal basis for intercepting the conversations with Trump’s campaign staff). 

The first, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, setting the stage for an intense debate in Congress about reforming surveillance. Under Section 702, the NSA (with telecommunications companies’ help) automatically searches virtually all the Internet communications flowing over the fiber optic cables that connect the US to the rest of the world—a practice known as “upstream” scanning. 

As of 2015, 26 percent of people in the United States were first- or second-generation immigrants.  Upstream monitoring, as we currently understand it, means that whenever any of these tens of millions of people—or anyone else in the US—sends an email to a friend or family member in another country, the US government is likely searching those communications to see if they contain e-mail addresses or other “selectors” of interest. This kind of suspicionless, warrantless, disproportionate monitoring violates human rights.

In addition to Section 702, Executive Order 12333 allows the NSA and other US agencies to vacuum up the communications of US citizens and lawful permanent residents in the course of foreign surveillance. Leaked documents indicate that pursuant to EO 12333, the US has grabbed records of potentially all telephone calls in countries including Mexico and the Philippines. In other words, if you are in El Paso, Texas and have called your mother in Juárez, Mexico, US intelligence agencies probably have a record of your call. They can use this data to map social networks—and share it for law enforcement purposes.

The US’ vast warrantless surveillance powers are not only an issue for legal wonks or the technically savvy: they may be affecting people and communities throughout the United States and the world. Congress and the judiciary should regard them as direct threats to both US democracy and human rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The latest revisions to China’s Criminal Law impose up to seven years in prison for “spreading rumors” about disasters, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised law, which took effect November 1, 2015, does not clarify what constitutes a “rumor,” heightening concerns that the provision will be used to curtail freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet.

“The revised Criminal Law adds a potent weapon to the Chinese government’s arsenal of punishments against netizens, including those who simply share information that departs from the official version of events,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are once again criminalizing free speech on the Internet, which has been the Chinese people’s only relatively free avenue for expressing themselves.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the addition of a provision to article 291(1) of the Criminal Law (Criminal Law Amendment Act (9)), which states that whoever “fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order” would face prison sentences – with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in “serious consequences.” The vagueness of the provision means that individuals doing nothing more than asking questions or reposting information online about reported local disasters could be subject to prosecution.

In the past, the Chinese government has detained netizens who questioned official casualty figures or who had published alternative information about disasters ranging from SARS in 2003 to the Tianjin chemical blast in 2015, under the guise of preventing “rumors.”

The revision was made in the context of a wider effort to rein in online freedom since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013:

  • In August 2013, the authorities waged a campaign against “online rumors” that included warning Internet users against breaching “seven bottom lines” in their Internet postings, taking into custody the well-known online commentator Charles Xue, and closing popular “public accounts” on the social media platform “WeChat” that report and comment on current affairs;
  • In September 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecution) issued a judicial interpretation making the crimes of defamation, creating disturbances, illegal business operations, and extortion applicable to expressions in cyberspace. The first netizen who was criminally prosecuted after this took effect was well-known blogger Qin Huohuo, who was sentenced to three years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly defaming the government and celebrities by questioning whether they were corrupt or engaged in other dishonest behavior;
  • In July and August 2014, authorities suspended popular foreign instant messaging services, including KakaoTalk, claiming the service was being used for “distributing terrorism-related information”;
  • In 2015, government agencies such as the State Internet Information Office issued multiple new directives, including tightening restrictions over the use of usernames and avatars, and requiring writers of online literature in particular to register with their real names;
  • In 2015, the government has also shut down or restricted access to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which many users depend on to access content blocked to users inside the country and also help shield user privacy;
  • In March 2015, authorities also deployed a new cyber weapon, the “Great Cannon,” to disrupt the services of GreatFire.org, an organization that works to document China’s censorship and facilitate access to information;
  • In July 2015, the government published a draft cybersecurity law that will requires domestic and foreign Internet companies to increase censorship on the government’s behalf, register users’ real names, localize data, and aid government surveillance; and
  • In August 2015, the government announced that it would station police in major Internet companies to more effectively prevent “spreading rumors” online.
     

Activists in China are regularly prosecuted for speech-related “crimes,” Human Rights Watch said. The best known of these crimes is “inciting subversion,” which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. But authorities have also used other crimes such as “inciting ethnic hatred,” as in the case of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who has been detained since May 2014 for a number of social media posts questioning the government’s policies towards Uighurs and Tibetans.

While providing the public with accurate information during disasters is important, the best way to counter inaccurate information would be to ensure that official information is reliable and transparent, Human Rights Watch said.

Above all, journalists should have unimpeded access to investigate and inform the public about these events, and the wider public should have the freedom to debate and discuss disaster response.

“The casualties of China’s new provision would not be limited to journalists, activists and netizens, but the right of ordinary people and the world to know about crucial developments in China,” Richardson said. “The best way to dispel false rumors would be to allow, not curtail, free expression.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cambodia National Rescue Party's President Kem Sokha greets media at his house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Heng Sinith
(Bangkok) – The Cambodian authorities should immediately and unconditionally dismiss all charges against the political opposition leader Kem Sokha and let him resume his political activities, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should allow exiled opposition leaders and supporters to return to Cambodia, after blocking their return on November 9, 2019.

On November 10, a Phnom Penh court announced the partial lifting of judicial supervision on Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). While Sokha is no longer confined to his own home, where he has been under effective house arrest since September 2018, he remains banned from engaging in any political activity or leaving Cambodia.

“Cambodia’s release of Kem Sokha from house arrest without dropping all charges or allowing any political activities is just rebooting his mistreatment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The European Union and other foreign governments should not be fooled but should ramp-up pressure on the government to immediately and unconditionally release Sokha and other prisoners held for exercising their basic rights.”

On September 3, 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit and about 100 police officers arrested Sokha at his home in Phnom Penh. He was charged with “colluding with foreigners,” which carries a maximum 30-year prison term. He was immediately stripped of his parliamentary immunity on the grounds that he was caught in the act of committing a crime, even though the evidence was a highly edited video of a 2013 speech he gave in Australia.

Foreign governments and the United Nations special rapporteur on Cambodia, Rhona Smith, have repeatedly called for dropping charges against Sokha and releasing him. After he spent a year in what the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had declared to be “arbitrary pre-trial detention” in a prison facility along the Vietnamese border, he was released into restrictive house arrest due to deteriorating health conditions. The investigating judge has not indicated when the investigation will be closed.

In November 2017, the government-controlled Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 party members from political activity for five years; 107 of them are still banned.

The acting CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy, announced from exile on August 16 that he and other exiled party leaders and supporters would return to Cambodia on November 9, Independence Day. In response, Cambodian authorities rolled out a series of repressive measures including military threats and an uptick of harassment and arrests of people affiliated with the party or supporting their return.

Between mid-August and November 8, Cambodian authorities charged 105 CNRP members with various fabricated charges, including plotting against the state, incitement to commit a felony, and discrediting judicial decisions, and detained 57 of them.

The Cambodian government prevented Rainsy and other party leaders from returning on November 9 by warning airlines they would face sanctions if they carried banned people to Phnom Penh, and enlisting the support of neighboring governments of Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos to prevent any crossings at land borders. On September 17, Hun Sen stated that the government had sent ASEAN countries arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy to prevent him from transiting through them to reach Cambodia.

Radio Free Asia reported on November 1 that the Cambodian Civil Aviation Authority had issued a directive instructing 47 commercial airlines not to allow Rainsy to board their aircraft. Cambodia’s state secretary of civil aviation clarified that this ban also extended to seven other CNRP officials as well as Rainsy’s wife, Tioulong Saumura.

On November 8, Thai Airways did not allow Rainsy to board a flight from Paris to Bangkok. He instead traveled to Kuala Lumpur. The exiled CNRP deputy leader, Mu Sochua, also traveled to Malaysia after the Cambodian ambassador to Indonesia interrupted her news conference in Indonesia.

On November 9, local human rights groups reported armored military vehicles at the Phnom Penh International Airport and in Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand, with a heavy military presence at Thai-Cambodian border checkpoints. People crossing the border reported being checked by Thai and Cambodian officials against wanted posters of exiled opposition members. In a number of instances near the Thai town of Aranyaprathet, Thai police detained Cambodians holding foreign passports and questioned them. Cambodian journalists also reported facing hostile questioning by military police while covering events at border crossings.

Cambodia’s Justice Ministry asserted that the government’s recent “measures are not political restrictions of rights and freedom.” Yet as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cambodia is obligated under article 12 to ensure that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country,” and under article 25, to allow every citizen to “take part in the conduct of public affairs.”

In 2018, the European Union began a review procedure for suspension of the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences granted to Cambodia, based on the government’s non-compliance with international human rights treaties and core International Labor Organization conventions. The action puts Cambodia’s tariff-free access to the EU market for certain exported goods, such as garments, at risk. The EU’s decision should be final by February 2020. On November 12, the EU will declare in a preliminary decision on whether it will suspend Cambodia’s EBA agreement.

“Cambodia’s release of Kem Sokha from house arrest is a blatant attempt to appease EU demands for substantial rights improvements, which is condition of the EBA trade agreement,” Adams said. “The EU should recognize that during the past three months, Cambodia has unjustly charged 100 more CNRP members and imprisoned nearly 60. All those cases should be dismissed and those detained immediately and unconditionally released.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

UAE: Political Detainees Languish Behind Bars

World Tolerance Summit in Dubai Cannot Whitewash Abuses

 

(Beirut) – The United Arab Emirates is hosting its second World Tolerance Summit as several activists are serving lengthy prison sentences following unfair trials, Human Rights Watch said today. The two-day conference on November 13 and 14, 2019 in Dubai under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE prime minister and the Dubai ruler, is part of UAE efforts to present itself as the “global capital of tolerance.”

UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. They have employed vaguely worded and loosely interpreted provisions in the country’s penal code and other laws to imprison peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists. They include Ahmed Mansoor, an award winning human rights activist and member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee; Mohammed al Roken, a university professor and human rights lawyer; and Nasser bin Ghaith, a prominent academic.

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To truly prove itself tolerant, the UAE should start by releasing all those unjustly imprisoned for not toeing the official line.” 

The UAE detained Mansoor in 2017 on speech-related charges that included using social media to “publish false information that harms national unity.” The authorities held him in a secret location for more than a year with no access to a lawyer, then sentenced him in May 2018 to 10 years in prison. On December 31, 2018, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court upheld Mansoor’s sentence. In March 2019, Mansoor began a month-long hunger strike to protest his unjust conviction and awful prison conditions. 

Bin-Ghaith is serving 10 years on charges stemming from criticism of the UAE and of Egyptian authorities. Following his arrest in August 2015, UAE security forces held him incommunicado for nine months. Bin-Ghaith, who is in poor health and has been denied adequate medical care in al-Razeen prison, initiated a months-long hunger strike in November 2018, his third reported hunger strike since April 2017.

Al-Roken is the former president of the United Arab Emirates Jurists’ Association. The authorities arrested him in July 2012 as he was driving to a Dubai police station to inquire about the arrests of his son and son-in-law. In July 2013, the Federal Supreme Court of Abu Dhabi convicted him alongside 68 other people in the grossly unfair “UAE 94” trial for attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Al-Roken was one of at least 64 detainees held at undisclosed locations for periods of up to one year before the trial and was denied legal assistance until a few weeks before the trial began in March 2013. He is in a high security prison in Abu Dhabi.

Prior to their convictions, the government repeatedly harassed and arrested all three men for their work and their criticism of the UAE’s human rights record.

“The UAE cannot credibly promote itself as a tolerant state while men like Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin-Ghaith, and Mohammed al-Roken, who risked their freedom to make the UAE a better and more just place, languish behind bars,” Whitson said. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Chinese visitors talk with education consultants at the booth of the United States during an expo in Beijing, China, 20 October 2018.

© 2018 Imaginechina via AP Images

 

A few years ago, I met a student from rural China who had come to a university in Washington, DC, and fallen in love with political science. But he was too afraid of being reported to the Chinese embassy to pursue the subject. While Americans take freedom at universities for granted, for some students from China the feeling is very different. “This isn’t a free space,” he concluded.

There are now approximately 350,000 students from China at American universities. While many have great experiences, some have to deal with the surveillance and censorship that follows them to campus. Over the past several years, Human Rights Watch has documented the unique threats these students face. Our research has revealed Chinese government and Communist Party intimidation ranging from harassment of family members in China over what someone had said in a closed seminar to censorship by US academic institutions that did not want to irk potential Chinese government partners. One scholar said a senior administrator had asked him “as a personal favor” to decline media requests during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, fearing that any criticism could have negative consequences for the university’s profile in China.

Even when campus debates take an ugly turn—such as when students from the mainland tried to shout down speakers at a March 2019 event at University of California, Berkeley, addressing the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, or in September when unidentified individuals threatened Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law as he arrived for graduate studies at Yale—schools appear reluctant to publicly respond to these threats against free speech. In mid-October, students at the University of California, Davis, tore down other students’ materials supporting Hong Kong protesters, yet in the ensuing days searching the school’s website for “Hong Kong” yields only information about summer internships—not unequivocal support for peaceful expression.

Few schools leverage their broader relationships with Chinese institutions to help faculty members who are denied visas by China when they try to advance research on topics considered sensitive by the Chinese government; equally few institutions make provisions for students from China who want to study sensitive topics to do so without it being known to Chinese authorities. We are unaware of any university that systematically tracks the impact of Chinese government interference in academic freedom—a step that could serve as a deterrent to such encroachments.

At a recent meeting I attended, some of the world’s foremost experts on vectors of Chinese government and Communist Party influence detailed for American university officials precisely the ways Chinese students and scholars in the United States are the focus of control and manipulation, including through on-campus surveillance of classroom speech and activities, which is then reported back to embassies or consulates. Yet those university officials appeared skeptical about the urgency or consequences for students or scholars, and the discussion quickly reverted to focusing on the technicalities of schools’ compliance with various regulations or their interactions with agencies like the FBI.

In private, some university officials will admit their discomfort in dealing with the issue of Chinese government influence on their campuses, and say they’re afraid that they may be labeled xenophobes. That fear needs urgently to be overcome to protect a community that is demonstrably vulnerable. A recent effort to do just that was initiated students themselves: In September, the student union at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, stripped the campus chapter of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association of its accreditation, on the grounds that the group’s reporting of a talk on Xinjiang to the local Chinese consulate violated school rules.

But there are also crass reasons for their reticence. Many academic institutions around the world now have opaque academic or financial relationships with Chinese government entities or government-linked companies. Some are increasingly dependent on international students for tuition revenue, and fear alienating students from China. Others, including MIT, find themselves in the awkward position of accepting money for research partnerships with Chinese companies like iFlytek, which has now been placed on a list of companies sanctioned by the US Department of Commerce for their involvement in human rights abuses in China.

Our research formed the basis of a 12-step code of conduct that is designed to help schools combat Chinese government efforts to undermine academic freedom around the world. Those steps start with acknowledging the problem, and include publicizing policies that classroom discussions are meant to stay on campus—not reported to foreign missions. Schools could also appoint an ombudsperson to whom threats could be reported and thus tracked, join forces to share experiences and take common positions, and commit to disclosing all links to the Chinese government—steps that could deter Chinese government overreach.

The code has been sent to about 150 schools in Australia, Canada, and the United States, and about a dozen have replied. So far none have signed on, convinced that their existing rules are sufficient to mitigate any threat, but we have seen no evidence that those rules and procedures have succeeded.

In April the Association of American Universities published an update of “actions taken by universities to address growing concerns about…undue foreign influence on campus”—but most of this document deals with issues like protection of data and export control compliance. A half-dozen universities—including UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and Yale University—published statements last spring expressing solidarity with international students and scholars on their campuses, and more than 60 colleges and universities have signed on to the University of Chicago’s well-known principles on free expression.

But if schools are going to fulfill their “solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it,” as the University of Chicago principles insist, they are going to have to tackle these threats head-on. That means providing the most precious asset a university should ensure that all of its students enjoy equally: freedom of thought.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Violent groups attacked anti-government protesters and torched their tents in downtown Beirut, Lebanon on October 29, 2019.

© 2019 IBRAHIM AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lebanese security forces have failed to stop attacks on peaceful demonstrators by men armed with sticks, metal rods, and sharp objects, Human Rights Watch said today. The security forces have also used excessive force to disperse protests and clear roadblocks. Lebanese authorities should take all feasible measures to protect peaceful protesters and refrain from forcibly breaking up peaceful assemblies.

Human Rights Watch documented at least six instances in which the security forces failed to protect peaceful protestors from violent attacks by men armed with sticks, rocks, and metal rods. Although security forces have largely refrained from using excessive force against protesters since October 18, 2019, Human Rights Watch documented them using excessive force to disperse protesters on at least 12 occasions. Security forces have also arbitrarily arrested dozens of peaceful protesters and interfered with people filming the protest incidents.

“Lebanese security forces appear to have by and large respected citizens’ right to protest, but the authorities should make clear that they will not tolerate violent attacks and will stop forcibly dispersing protests without cause,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces should protect peaceful demonstrators, including by ensuring that they themselves are properly equipped and deployed on demonstration sites.” 

The Lebanese Red Cross stated that between October 17 and October 30, it treated 1,702 people for injuries at protest areas and transported 282 injured people to hospitals from protest areas around the country. The Lebanese Civil Defense told Human Rights Watch that during the same time period, it treated 82 protesters and 6 members of the security forces for injuries, and it transported 85 injured people to hospitals from protest areas. The Civil Defense noted that most of its operations took place in downtown Beirut.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 37 protesters who said they witnessed or were the victims of violent attacks by counter-demonstrators or excessive force by security forces in Beirut, Sour, Nabatieh, Bint Jbeil, Saida, Jal el Dib, and Abdeh. Five people said that the security forces prevented or tried to prevent them from filming the abuse, in some cases using excessive force. Most of the people interviewed asked Human Rights Watch not to use their names or their full names for their protection.

Protesters said that security forces failed to intervene to protect peaceful protesters from violent attackers on at least six occasions in Beirut, Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh, and Sour.

Human Rights Watch observed one such attack in downtown Beirut on October 29, when hundreds of supporters of Amal and Hezbollah used rocks and metal rods to attack peaceful demonstrators who were blocking the Ring highway in central Beirut and burned, vandalized, and looted protesters’ tents. Human Rights Watch and witnesses observed that riot police and the army who were present did not intervene decisively to stop the attack or arrest any attackers. They used tear gas to disperse the attackers only two hours later.  

The Lebanese state authorities have a responsibility both to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to protect protesters from violent attack, Human Rights Watch said. This includes ensuring that properly trained security forces are deployed in sufficient numbers at demonstration sites and that they intervene in a timely manner to prevent injuries. They should ensure the prosecution of those responsible for violent attacks.

The Lebanese security forces have in some instances used excessive force to clear roadblocks set up by protesters around the country. Human Rights Watch observed, and witnesses said, that during these incidents, security forces used batons and the butts of their rifles to beat protesters who were blocking roads, and in some cases detained protesters. In one case, the army used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at protesters blocking the road in the north Lebanon town of Abdeh.

The Lebanese army has acknowledged the protesters’ right to peaceful protest and assembly but maintained that protesters should reopen roads and only assemble in public squares. Authorities have not explained why they considered it necessary to forcibly remove roadblocks or disperse protesters in any of the incidents Human Rights Watch documented.  

Human Rights Watch on numerous occasions observed protesters promptly removing the roadblocks for ambulances, medical staff, and military personnel. The secretary general of the Lebanese Red Cross confirmed that protesters have cleared the roads for ambulances.

According to the Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters, between October 17 and November 4, Lebanese authorities detained at least 200 protesters, including in Beirut and Sour. As of November 4, 19 of them were still in detention. Five of those detained described to Human Rights Watch being abused by security forces during their arrest.

Freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, and as such should be enjoyed without restriction to the greatest extent possible. The UN expert on free assembly has stated that “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly.” Further, two UN experts have concluded that “assemblies are an equally legitimate use of public space as commercial activity or the movement of vehicles and pedestrian traffic,” and therefore “a certain level of disruption to ordinary life caused by assemblies, including disruption of traffic, annoyance, and even harm to commercial activities, must be tolerated if the right is not to be deprived of substance.”

International law allows for dispersing a peaceful assembly only in rare cases, including if an assembly prevents access to essential services, such as medical care or serious and sustained interference with traffic or the economy. The onus is on the authorities to justify the limitation and prove the precise nature of the threats posed by the assembly. Further, organizers should be able to appeal such decisions in competent and independent courts. Even when security forces can lawfully disperse nonviolent assemblies, they should avoid the use of force to the greatest extent possible.

Lebanese authorities should impartially investigate allegations of excessive use of force by security forces at protests. Victims of unlawful use of force should receive prompt and adequate compensation. Detainees who have not been charged with a recognizable offense should be immediately released.

“If Lebanese authorities are serious about protecting citizens’ rights to protest, they should investigate allegations of misconduct and hold those responsible to account,” Stork said. “Only then will the Lebanese have full confidence in the security forces’ ability to protect them in their fight against corruption and impunity.”

Failure to Protect Peaceful Protesters

Protesters told Human Rights Watch that on at least six occasions, soldiers and riot police units mostly stood by instead of protecting demonstrators or trying to stop the attacks on them by violent groups whose flags and chants indicated that they were supporters of Hezbollah and Amal.

Human Rights Watch researchers observed one such attack in downtown Beirut on October 29, and interviewed six protesters who were at the scene. At about 12:30 p.m., hundreds of people chanting slogans in support of the Amal leader, Nabih Berri, who is the parliament speaker, and the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, attacked peaceful demonstrators who were blocking the Ring road in central Beirut. Riot police separated the attackers from the demonstrators, but the attackers quickly broke through the riot police formation and beat and kicked protesters and hurled rocks and metal rods at them.

Timour Azhari, a Daily Star journalist, told Human Rights Watch that one of the assailants punched him and beat him to the ground, while another punched and kicked his cameraman, Hasan Shaaban, in the ribs. Christoph, a 36-year-old tour guide, said that an attacker punched him in the face as he was observing the attack. He needed stitches on his cheek and eyelid, and his doctor told him that he had been hit with brass knuckles. Ali Awada, an An-Nahar journalist, said that the attackers viciously beat him on his legs and arms.  

Human Rights Watch observed some riot police standing on the sidelines during the attacks while others tried halfheartedly to stop the attack. All the protesters interviewed said that security forces did not do enough to stop the attack. “It appeared as though security forces were acting as individuals, not as an organized force,” Awada said. “Some officers were clashing with the Amal and Hezbollah guys, and others just didn’t do anything. They were basically watching.”

By around 2 p.m., the attackers had reached Martyrs’ Square, where they burned, vandalized, and looted the protesters’ tents. Five witnesses said that security forces did not attempt to stop this attack. Azhari said that although the burning of tents lasted more than 30 minutes, the authorities sent no additional forces. A video shared on social media appeared to show a lone security officer attempting to put out a fire with a small bottle of water.

The attackers advanced onto Riad al-Solh Square. At around 2:50 p.m., riot police fired tear gas to disperse them. Human Rights Watch did not observe the security forces making any arrests. The Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters, an ad hoc group of pro-bono lawyers that interviewed dozens of witnesses and victims, concluded that although the evidence suggested that the attack was coordinated, none of the attackers were arrested. The Lebanese Red Cross transported at least 11 wounded protesters to nearby hospitals.

Five people said that supporters of Amal and Hezbollah beat and terrorized them and other protesters in Nabatieh, in south Lebanon, on two occasions. One protester said that after midnight on October 18, at least 30 Amal supporters surrounded him and about 30 other protesters who were holding a sit-in near the Serail, the municipal government headquarters. “They began beating us with sticks and the chairs we were sitting on, while insulting us and telling us that we can’t speak negatively about Berri,” the Amal leader and parliament speaker.

He said that the Amal supporters warned protesters that “whoever comes into the street, we will break their legs.” He said that many people were seriously injured and two had to be taken to the hospital – one with a broken arm and bruises all over his body, and the other with a broken nose. Although the Internal Security Force’s Nabatieh headquarters are in the Serail, the protester said that the security forces did not intervene.

Hundreds of people attacked protesters in front of the Serail building again on October 23. Four protesters who were there said that at around 3 p.m., more than 400 men whom they knew to be Hezbollah supporters attacked peaceful protesters, with sticks and sharp metal objects, including beating women, children, and older people indiscriminately. The protesters said that municipal police, whom they allege are under Hezbollah’s control, participated in the attack.

One protester said that the attackers beat him from all sides on his neck, shoulder, and leg. Another said that he saw “thugs” beating a 4-year-old girl and a 75-year-old woman. Two said that the attackers targeted anyone filming or recording the attack. “Injured protesters were lying on the floor, beaten and some unconscious, from all ages…You cannot imagine how terrifying it was to witness,” one protester said.

All four protesters said that Internal Security Forces present did not intervene to protect the demonstrators. One said the forces retreated into their headquarters in the Serail when the attack began. An hour later, protesters said, the army intervened to separate the attackers from the demonstrators. Those interviewed said that neither the army nor the security forces arrested any attackers.

Local media reported and protesters told Human Rights Watch that at least 25 people were injured. The Lebanese Red Cross said that it transported five injured protesters to the hospital and treated four at the scene. One protester said that a 16-year-old boy suffered a severe spinal cord injury and remains in intensive care.

A protester in Bint Jbeil, in southern Lebanon, said that Amal supporters attacked peaceful protesters on October 21. At about 6 p.m., he said, 50 Amal supporters armed with big rocks, glass, pipes, and sticks descended on about 1,000 protesters gathered in front of the Bint Jbeil municipal building. They were “beating us senseless,” he said. He said that the attack lasted for less than 10 minutes because the attack was so brutal that demonstrators quickly fled.

The protester said that although the army had two tanks near the demonstration and dozens of fully armed soldiers, they did not intervene to protect the protesters and retreated when the attack began. He also said that security forces did not arrest any attackers.

A protester in Sour said that about a dozen Amal supporters attacked and destroyed the protesters’ tents in Sour’s al-Alam Square in the early hours of October 30, in a “systematic way.” He said that the Internal Security Forces were there but did not intervene and that the army eventually ejected the “thugs” from the square but did not arrest any. “At any point, we can get attacked,” he said. “But I don’t have confidence in the security forces to protect us.”

Use of Excessive Force

The Lebanese security forces have in at least 12 instances appeared to use excessive force to clear roadblocks set up by protesters around the country. On October 29, three protesters told Human Rights Watch that the army used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at about 100 protesters, including women and children, who off and on since October 17 had been blocking the main road in the north Lebanon town of Abdeh and beat the protesters with batons.

Human Rights Watch observed security forces pushing protesters and beating some with batons to clear roadblocks at the Ring road in central Beirut on October 31, and at the Tehwita intersection in Furn el-Chebbak on October 25. Human Rights Watch also spoke with witnesses and reviewed video footage of security forces beating protesters to clear roadblocks on the Ring road in Beirut on October 26, in Saida on October 23, October 24, October 28, and November 1, on the Jal el-Dib highway on October 23, October 31, and November 5, and in Nahr el Kalb on October 23.

Human Rights Watch observed, and witnesses said, that during these incidents, security forces used batons and the butts of their rifles to beat protesters who were blocking roads, and in some cases detained protesters. Six protesters said they were injured during the clearing of roadblocks in Beirut, Abdeh, and Saida. 

On November 5, the army also removed the tents, stages, and sound equipment set up by protesters in the main protest squares in Saida and Jal el-Dib.

One protester in Abdeh, Omar, said that the army began gathering in the Abdeh Square at around 8 p.m. Between 100 and 150 protesters, among them women and children, and the head of the Bebnine municipality, were blocking the main road.

Omar said that at around 8:15 p.m., an army commander told the head of the municipality that if the protesters did not open the road, the army would open it by force. He said the army then started advancing toward the protesters, who were chanting “peaceful, peaceful.”

“Whoever tried to resist or speak was hit with batons,” Omar said. He said that he saw a soldier hit a woman on her head with a baton, and others hit him with batons while he was filming the incident. Omar said that the army then fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd as they dragged and detained protesters. Video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch appears to corroborate Omar’s account.

Another protester said that as he was watching the army advance, a soldier grabbed him and dragged him away. He said that 15 to 20 soldiers started beating and kicking him, including with batons and rifle butts. The protester said that one of his eardrums exploded as a result. He said the army transferred him to the military police in al-Qobbeh who released him the next day. “People are broken,” he said. “We’re all broken. Our rights have been forgotten.”

Bilal, another protester participating in the Abdeh roadblock, said that the army shot him in the leg with a rubber bullet, and he saw soldiers injuring two other protesters. “It was a war scene, it was horrifying,” Bilal said.  

The army has forcibly re-opened the Jal el-Dib highway north of Beirut on several occasions, including on October 23, October 31, and November 5. A protester, Tony, said that at 8:30 a.m. on November 5, the army cleared the highway by stepping on protesters who were blocking the road with their bodies, beating them, and arresting 20. Footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch appears to show the army beating protesters, including with batons. Tony said that the army released 17 detainees and turned over the other 3 to army intelligence.

“I got hit with a baton by the army on my back,” Tony said. “One protester suffered a head injury and got three stitches. A young woman who was sitting on the front line was stepped on by an army officer and kicked in the ribs. Her rib is broken.”

Protesters in Saida said that the army and army intelligence tried to forcibly reopen roads there on multiple occasions, including on October 23, October 24, October 28 and November 1. Four protesters at the Awwali bridge at the entrance to Saida on the morning of October 28 said that army and army intelligence forces violently re-opened the road. The protesters said that in the early hours of the morning, about 20 army trucks arrived carrying soldiers armed with batons and shields.

“They were screaming, pushing, cursing, and scaring the protesters so that we would run,” a protester said. All four protesters said that the army intelligence officers were the most violent. “The intelligence were attacking people in a barbaric way,” a protester said. “Some were beating boys and girls with the butts of their rifles.”

One of the protesters, a 22-year-old woman, said that she was standing in the front lines with other women to prevent the violence, but security forces even attacked the women. “The rifle hit my stomach and I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I fell to the ground.” She heard a commander give an order to “finish them [protesters], and then bring the ambulances to collect them.”

Two of the protesters said that the army beat one protester so violently on his head that he had to be immediately transferred to the hospital. The protesters said the army arrested at least five people but released them the same day.

Internal Security Forces officers arrested and violently beat Salim Ghadban, 29, as he watched them arrest four protesters who occupied the Banks Association in downtown Beirut on November 1. “They beat me mercilessly,” Ghadban said. “If I dared open my mouth, they beat me harder.”

At the el-Helou police station, Ghadban said, the officers did not allow him to call a lawyer, doctor, or his family, in violation of Lebanon’s Code of Criminal Procedure. Ghadban was released at 7 p.m. the same day. “I have a serious injury to my head, my forehead, under my eye, between my eye and nose, and on my eyelid, shoulder, and back. My nose is broken,” he said. Human Rights Watch reviewed his medical report, which corroborated Ghadban’s account.

Targeting People Recording Attacks

Five people said that security forces tried to prevent them from filming the abuse, in some cases using excessive force. Awada, the An-Nahar journalist, said that officers ordered him to stop filming the security forces attack on protesters on the Ring highway in Beirut on October 29. “When I refused, an ISF officer attacked me from the back, grabbed my arm forcefully and dislocated my shoulder, forcing me to stop filming,” he said.

Layal bou Moussa, an Al Jadeed TV reporter, said that the army stopped reporters from two other local TV stations, MTV and LBCI, from filming them pushing and beating protesters to reopen the road in Nahr el Kalb and Zouk Mosbeh on October 23, although they allowed her to continue her live reporting.

A protester said that he took videos of the army beating protesters at the Tehwita roundabout on October 25. “The army then came to look through my phone and saw that I had taken the videos,” he said, adding that the army detained him briefly because he filmed the incident.

Another protester said that army intelligence officers attacked people filming the army beating protesters blocking the highway in Saida on October 28. A protester in Jal el Dib similarly said that the army were ordering people not to film them reopening the road on November 5 and were confiscating the phones of people recording the incident.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

Iraq: Teargas Cartridges Killing Protesters

Security forces have fired teargas cartridges directly at protesters in Baghdad, Iraq on numerous occasions since protests resumed on October 25, 2019.

(Beirut) – Security forces have fired teargas cartridges directly at protesters in Baghdad, Iraq on numerous occasions since protests resumed on October 25, 2019, killing at least 16, Human Rights Watch said today. The dead are among the large number of protesters Iraqi forces have killed since daily protests began in Baghdad and in other cities in southern Iraq against corruption and for better public services, among other demands.

According to a November 5 United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) report, the nationwide death toll from October 25 through November 4 reached at least 97. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) tallied at least 105 dead and 5,655 injured during that same period. From November 5 to 6, Reuters reported that security forces had killed at least six more protesters.

“The high death toll includes people who took direct hits to the head from teargas cartridges, in numbers that suggest a gruesome pattern rather than isolated accidents,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “With the death toll now at over 100, all of Iraq’s global partners should be unequivocal in their condemnation.”

Protesters in Tahrir Square arrange the tear gas canisters that security forces fired at them in Tahrir Square in different patriotic constellations.

© 2019 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

From October 25 to November 2, security forces’ use of force in Baghdad alone led to the deaths of at least 64 people, sources monitoring the death toll in Baghdad said. Human Rights Watch interviewed 24 people who have participated in protests in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Maysan, Nasriya and Basra. The names of many sources cited in this report are being withheld because they spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a fear of reprisal.

Through interviews, researchers’ visits to Tahrir Square, and the review of over a dozen video clips filmed by media outlets, Human Rights Watch has received information about at least 12 deaths in Baghdad caused by teargas cartridges hitting people in the head. The UNAMI report put the death toll from teargas cartridges penetrating upper bodies at at least 16.

Human Rights Watch has also documented internet slowdowns and social media and other media blockages and shutdowns since the protests began.

Human Rights Watch analyzed Reuters footage taken on October 27 and 29, which it corroborated with witness interviews. The footage shows security forces on Jumhuriya Bridge firing into the crowds at the foot of the bridge, which opens onto Tahrir Square. The October 27 clip shows one officer to the right firing teargas cartridges in an upward trajectory while on the left another officer is firing in a flat trajectory at crowds of protesters less than 100 meters away.

An analyst at the Omega Research Foundation, an independent research group focusing on the manufacture, trade, and use of military, security, and police equipment, reviewed this clip for Human Rights Watch and said that:

The man on the left is likely to be aiming directly at the people he is targeting. This carries a high risk of causing serious injury or death if teargas cartridges are being fired. In the second clip [taken on October 29], both people who are using launchers are firing on a flat trajectory. Again, this is an inappropriate and highly dangerous use of teargas cartridges.

The contrast in firing techniques raises the question of whether some forces are operating side-by-side under different orders, whether they all have orders to disperse the crowds in any way they see fit, or whether forces are disregarding their orders, Human Rights Watch said.

While relying increasingly on teargas in Baghdad, security forces are continuing to use live ammunition. Between November 4 and 6, live ammunition killed at least 14 more protesters in Baghdad, according to Reuters. Human Rights Watch reviewed three videos identifiably shot at Jumhuriya Bridge, and shared via social media between October 25 and November 5, showing dead protesters with wounds to the head that do not appear to have been caused by teargas cartridges.

Allegations of excessive force outside of Baghdad also continue, particularly in Karbala, with witnesses, UNAMI, and media reports all saying that security forces killed at least 17 protesters between October 28 and November 3.

Since the protests began, senior government officials have forbidden medical staff from sharing information on the dead and injured with any sources outside the Health Ministry, and the ministry has been releasing minimal and incomplete information. The IHCHR stopped updating its national tally as of October 31.

A doctor in a facility receiving the dead and wounded from the protests interviewed anonymously told AFP he thought the actual death toll since October 25 was much higher than the one being reported by the IHCHR. A person with links to Iraq’s morgues told Human Rights Watch she agreed with this assessment.

UNAMI recorded six abductions of protestors or volunteers providing assistance in the Baghdad demonstrations during the current wave of protests. In one case, the sister of Saba Farhan Hameed, 36, who had been providing food, water, and first aid kits to protesters in Tahrir Square, said Hameed vanished around 11:15 p.m. on November 2 while en route home. A colleague who had been on the phone with Hameed heard her scream and her phone went off.  Her sister has since gone to several police stations to search for Hameed but has not been able to locate her.

Under international human rights standards, law enforcement may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. Forces should only use teargas when necessary to prevent further physical harm; where possible, they should issue warnings before firing. They should take into account the likely impact of their use of teargas, especially in enclosed spaces or if fired at close range, on vulnerable groups, including children. During violent protests, the use of teargas should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense, should meet a legitimate law enforcement objective, and should preferably be used alongside other non-lethal methods. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life.

The UN  Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require authorities to promptly report on and investigate all incidents of law enforcement officials killing or injuring people with firearms through an independent administrative or prosecutorial process.

Iraqi authorities should respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, allowing all Iraqis to demonstrate peacefully and all journalists to film and report on the protests. Given the scale of law enforcement officials’ apparent use of excessive and lethal force over an extended period of time, the Iraqi government should launch an investigation into each and every death by the security forces, with the help of international experts if necessary, Human Rights Watch said. Such investigations should be speedy, fair, and independent of those being investigated with the participation of the families of those killed, and should lead to prosecutions of anyone found to have broken the law, including commanders.

Countries that have provided military and law enforcement training and support to Iraq – including the United States, European Union states, and Iran should end assistance to units involved in serious violations unless the authorities hold abusers accountable and curtail the abuses. The countries should explain publicly the grounds for suspending or ending military assistance. While the UN, US, and EU have issued multiple statements condemning the excessive use of force, Iran, another key partner to Iraq, has withheld censure.

“Given Iraq’s history of civil unrest and international training not only for military operations but also for crowd control, Iraqi authorities should not get a free pass for misusing teargas as a lethal weapon instead of a crowd dispersal method,” Whitson said.

Interference with Media, Internet Blocking

Since October 25, Iraqis in central and southern Iraq have reported having no access to social media platforms except when using a virtual private network. They also report slower-than-usual internet speeds. From October 27 to November 2, Human Rights Watch researchers in Baghdad were able to access internet at slow speeds, but unable to access most communication applications without use of a VPN and even then experienced severe connectivity difficulties.

In an email on October 30, a representative of NetBlocks, an independent, international, non-partisan group monitoring internet access and a range of other digital rights, told Human Rights Watch that the organization had observed near-total shutdowns and a nightly internet curfew between October 2 and 11, followed by weeks of service restrictions during the ongoing protests: “It’s been 30 days since the social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are blocked and messaging platforms including WhatsApp and Telegram are degraded for most users. The disruptions in Iraq now rank amongst the most severe NetBlocks has observed in any country in 2019.” Netblocks reported that on November 4 at midnight local time, the internet was again completely shut down in most of the country. The shutdowns continued on November 5 after a respite of several hours.

During the first wave of protests in early October, four journalists and the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate said the crackdown on outlets airing protest footage was acute, with raids on outlet offices and channels being pulled off the air. Since the protests resumed on October 25, the government has eased the pressure not to broadcast such footage. However, a local journalist in Karbala, which has had daily protests, said that on October 28 at about noon, he saw security forces arrest a local outlet’s cameraman as he filmed the protest. The local journalist said that half an hour later, soldiers surrounded him while he was filming, arrested him, and accused him of “inciting people to protest” through his media work. They released him after 30 minutes but told him that they would keep arresting journalists.

The UNAMI report cited raids on and suspensions of six local media outlets between October 25 and 26.

Teargas

The November 5 UNAMI report put the death toll from teargas cartridges to the head and chest at 16 at least. The IHCHR reported that on October 25 alone, eight people were killed in this way. Amnesty International reported that it had spoken to two protesters who had witnessed deaths on October 26 and 28 from teargas cartridges hitting people in the head.

Human Rights Watch interviewed a protester who said she saw another protester get hit in the head and killed by a teargas cartridge on October 29. She said the victim was not trying to approach security forces at the time, but was just in the square, dancing and talking. Another protester said he saw a man killed by a teargas cartridge that hit him in the head on October 28 on Jumhuriya Bridge. Both witnesses said that they did not hear the security forces giving any oral warning before opening fire.

An activist shared a video clip that apparently showed officers opening fire with teargas cartridges on November 1 on protesters along the river, hitting a man in the head and killing him.

On November 1, the IHCHR reported, security forces killed a woman with a teargas cartridge to her head on Jumhuriya Bridge.

Human Rights Watch has been unable to ascertain the rank and affiliation of the officers stationed on Jumhuriya Bridge since October 25 who were firing teargas.

An international military expert in Baghdad said that in his view, when the Iraqi security forces fired teargas cartridges directly at a crowd, it was “not an issue of training, but a level of intention, showing that security forces are absolutely using these projectiles as a weapon as opposed to a dispersal mechanism.” The standard practices and procedures used by security forces for riot control, as well as the instructions provided by manufacturers, dictate that tear gas cartridges should not be fired directly at people. An international observer with crowd control experience in Baghdad also said that in her view the security forces were sometimes using teargas cartridges for the same purpose as they used live bullets.

Adequate Training

Human Rights Watch raised questions about the level of crowd control training Iraqi forces had received with diplomats from four embassies in a meeting on October 29. They said that their governments had focused on training for military and counterterrorism operations more than on crowd control. However, over the past years, Italy, France, and the US have provided Iraqi Forces some crowd-control training. Iraqi forces have also dealt with protests and civil unrest for years, including during large-scale protests in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2018.

Alleged Expired Cartridges

Protesters have alleged since the protests began that security forces are using expired teargas cartridges. Researchers visited the Baghdad protest on November 1 and saw dozens of teargas cartridges that had been collected by protesters after they had been fired. Many had dates listed on them from 2009 to 2014, but these are most likely production dates, not expiration dates. Human Rights Watch was unable to ascertain if the cartridges had expired.

The Omega Research Foundation shared analysis with Human Rights Watch that concluded that expired teargas is dangerous for many reasons. Without taking a position on whether expired cartridges were in use in Iraq, they concluded: “Expired equipment should not be in use on the street. It should be taken out of circulation and destroyed according to careful environmental protocols for waste disposal.” 

Changing Teargas Symptoms

On November 1, two doctors separately told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of October 31, they received at least 10 protesters in their tent who showed a set of symptoms different from those experienced by earlier victims of teargas exposure. They said the more recent victims went into spasms, shock, breathing difficulty, and paralysis for about 10 minutes before the symptoms started to pass. They showed Human Rights Watch a video capturing the symptoms. The IHCHR expressed concern about the apparent change in symptoms, though it remains unclear what may be causing them.

Karbala

Reports emerged that on the night of October 28, armed forces opened fire on protesters in Karbala, killing between 14 and 18, according to several international media outlets that said they were able to verify the casualties with unnamed security sources, even though public officials denied the incident. A local journalist there told Human Rights Watch that he saw security forces open fire on crowds of protesters that night and saw one protester he recognized dead from a gunshot wound in the morgue the next morning.

Human Rights Watch interviewed a doctor who was on his shift that night at the morgue and who said that he saw the bodies of seven protesters who had been shot and killed. Another medical worker shared videos she said she filmed that night, showing four bodies. UNAMI received what it viewed as credible allegations that security forces killed 18 protesters.

The Karbala doctor said he personally knows the family of one of the victims. He said the family tried to retrieve their son’s body, “But the hospital refused to give it to them unless they signed a document that they would not bring a legal suit against the government or a tribal claim. The family refused to sign and so they still don’t have the body back.”

A man in Karbala said that on the night of November 3, he and about 200 other protesters were heading to the Iranian consulate to demonstrate outside. He said Iraqi Security Forces there did not stop the protesters from putting an Iraqi flag on top of the consulate, but that at about 10:30 p.m., a group of teenagers threw several Molotov cocktails at the consulate building. Armed men arrived in SWAT-marked vehicles and started firing on the protesters. “I saw one man who was filming the protest get shot in the chest,” he said. Reuters reported that three protesters were shot and killed at the confrontation near the Iranian consulate.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Nguyen Ngoc Anh at an anti-Formosa protest in 2016. The signs he is holding say: Fish Need Clean Water, People Need Transparency.  

© 2016 Private

(Bangkok, November 6, 2019) – A Vietnamese court will hear an appeal on November 7, 2019 of a six-year sentence for a Vietnamese environmental activist convicted of criticizing the government on Facebook, Human Rights Watch said today. The prosecution and detention of the activist, Nguyen Ngoc Anh, clearly violated his right to freedom of speech. The authorities should reverse his conviction and immediately release him.

The police arrested Nguyen Ngoc Anh in August 2018 and charged him with “making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 117 of the country’s penal code. In June 2019, after a summary trial, a court in Ben Tre province sentenced him to six years in prison, followed by five years on probation. A higher court in Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled to hear the appeal.

“Nguyen Ngoc Anh is among a rapidly increasing group of political dissenters locked up for expressing opinions on Facebook,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s government seems to think that using the platform for its intended purpose is a crime.”

State media described his sharing of “reactionary” material as intended to “badmouth” the state and party and incite people to protest during the independence holiday on September 2. However, Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s writings were on prototypical issues of concern to social activists in Vietnam: the environmental destruction wrought by the Formosa company’s toxic waste spill in April 2016, the lack of free choice in elections in 2016, and the welfare of political prisoners.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, wrote on Facebook that when she visited him in October, he “dragged his feet with a lot of difficulty.” She wrote that he told her that another prisoner, Do Huu Cuong, recently had beaten him until he fainted. Nguyen Ngoc Anh reported the beating to prison guards, but no action was taken.

On October 23, the police in the town of Binh Dai in Ben Tre summoned Nguyen Thi Chau for questioning. They asked her about her relationship with family members of other political prisoners, wearing a T-shirt that dismisses China’s claim to a disputed sea territory, welcoming home a political prisoner, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, and giving an interview to Radio Free Asia.

“First the Vietnamese authorities imprison people to prevent them exercising their free speech rights, then they attempt to silence family members who want to advocate for their freedom,” Sifton said. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners should publicly condemn these abuses and voice support for critics and activists.”

The imprisonment of Nguyen Ngoc Anh is part of an ongoing crackdown against critics of the party and government. During the first 10 months of 2019, the Vietnamese authorities convicted at least 20 people and sentenced them to between 6 months and 10 years in prison for criticizing the government, campaigning for religious freedom, advocating basic civil and political rights, or fighting corruption.

The police arrested Nguyen Nang Tinh in May, Pham Van Diep in June, and Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong in September for posting or sharing Facebook posts. In October, the authorities held trials for Nguyen Thi Hue, Nguyen Van Phuoc, and Pham Xuan Hao on similar charges.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged internet companies to raise concerns publicly about persons unjustly imprisoned for online expression and pressure Vietnam to reform its abusive laws on cybersecurity and online expression.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Counterterrorism officers arrested Sameer Rashed Mahmoud from his home on October 26 for posting on Facebook that students and government employees in other governorates should strike to support fellow Iraqis participating in protests elsewhere in the country.

©Private/2019

(Beirut) – Authorities in Iraq’s Anbar governorate are suppressing the right of residents to show support for demonstrations elsewhere in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. In recent days, they have arrested two men for merely posting messages of solidarity on Facebook, questioned a third, and sent a fourth into hiding.

Since October 25,  2019, the authorities throughout Iraq have detained hundreds of protesters at or after demonstrations, but the Anbar arrests stand out  in that authorities arrested the men merely for showing their support over social media.

“Despite years of terrible conflict, many Iraqis have felt free to speak out on political issues,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But these cases mark a disturbing change, if you contrast these men’s entirely peaceful political statements with the completely inappropriate response by the Anbar authorities.”

Protests started in Baghdad and southern cities on October 1, demanding improved services and more action to curb corruption. Security forces used excessive lethal force against protesters during the first wave of demonstrations from October 1 to 9, and again starting on October 25. Eight Anbar residents told Human Rights Watch that Anbaris did not intend to hold protests there, concerned that authorities would not allow them given the recent history of ISIS taking control over much of the governorate.

A Facebook post from the Anbar Police Command on October 24 reinforced their concern. It said that, “Anbar governorate calls upon its citizens to head to work and continue with construction, preserving security, supporting security forces, and benefitting from past lessons, from which the province has only gotten destruction, killings, and displacement.”

One man told Human Rights Watch he had so badly wanted to engage in the social movement that he had relocated to Baghdad. But he and others who spoke with Human Rights Watch said they read this post by the Anbar police as an implicit threat that authorities in Anbar would not tolerate any protests.

Human Rights Watch interviewed the families of two men whom security forces detained after they posted messages of solidarity with the protest movement. At around midnight on October 26, Sameer Rashed Mahmoud, a 27-year-old man, posted on Facebook that students and government employees in other governorates should strike to support fellow Iraqis participating in protests elsewhere in the country. About an hour and a half later, his cousin said, counterterrorism officers arrived at Mahmoud’s home and detained him. They told his family they were arresting him for his Facebook post, which they said was inciting people to protest.

The next day his cousin went to the local Interior Ministry’s Counterterrorism Office, where forces told him there had been an arrest warrant issued for Mahmoud, but that they planned to release him soon without charge and that the family did not need to hire a lawyer. On October 29, when he had not been released, the cousin returned to the office, and saw Mahmoud in a cell over the facility’s CCTV, but officers refused to allow the cousin to speak to him. His family has yet to be able to speak to Mahmoud.

A second case involves a 25-year-old man who, a relative said, added a frame around his Facebook profile on the evening of October 26 to show solidarity with the protests. Four hours later, five police cars arrived at his house and officers detained him. “They hit him and accused him of inciting protests, before handcuffing him and putting him in one of their cars,” the relative said. Authorities held the man incommunicado until October 31, then released him without charge.

A third man said that after he posted on Facebook support for a strike in solidarity with the protests, several security officers questioned his colleagues about him and then questioned him, but let him go.

Another man said that on October 25, he had posted several times on Facebook in support of the protest movement. On October 26, a friend who is a policeman called and said the police had issued an arrest warrant in his name because of his posts. He fled his home and is in hiding.

The authorities should respect all Iraqis’ right to freedom of expression and bring an end to harassment and intimidation of Iraqis peacefully supporting the protests, Human Rights Watch said. “These arrests could signify a serious retrogression in free speech in some parts of the country,” Whitson said. “It’s crucial for these cases to remain the exception.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

“With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform. He spoke of making our country more open and tolerant and promised that he would address the things that hold back our progress, such as the ban on women driving. But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests.”

-Jamal Khashoggi, 2017

On January 23, 2015, Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died following a protracted illness. The country faced a deteriorating economy that was overly reliant on high oil prices and unable to meet the employment and livelihood demands of Saudi Arabia’s growing youth population. King Abdullah’s successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother, immediately set out to address the country’s economic plight, appointing his then 29-year-old son Mohammed as the head of the newly established Council of Economic and Development Affairs and the Minister of Defense.

Mohammed bin Salman (known by his initials MBS), a relatively unknown and junior prince prior to his father’s accession to the throne, quickly became the face of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reform the country’s economy. In April 2016 he launched Vision 2030, an ambitious government road map for economic and developmental growth that aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

The following year, in June 2017, King Salman elevated his son to crown prince, making him next in line to the Saudi throne and de facto day-to-day ruler of the country. Positive changes for women and youth, combined with a major push for foreign direct investment into the world’s largest oil producing country and lavishly funded public relations efforts helped to bolster a positive image for the crown prince on the international political scene. During visits to the United Kingdom and United States in March 2018, Prince Mohammed was lauded by officials, businesspeople, and celebrities alike.

Behind the glamor and pomp of Prince Mohammed’s newfound fame abroad and advancements for Saudi women and youth, however, lay a darker reality, as the Saudi authorities moved to sideline anyone in Saudi Arabia who could stand in the way of his political ascension. In the summer of 2017, around the time of his promotion to crown prince, authorities purged former security and intelligence officials and quietly reorganized the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, and placed them directly under the royal court’s oversight. With the security apparatus completely under royal court control, the authorities then launched a series of arrest campaigns, targeting dozens of critics and potential critics of Saudi government policies. These arrest waves targeted prominent clerics, public intellectuals, academics, and human rights activists in September 2017, leading businesspeople and royal family members accused of corruption in November 2017, and the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates beginning in May 2018. The arrests waves were often accompanied by defamation and slander of those arrested in the country’s progovernment media.

Detaining citizens for peaceful criticism of the government’s policies or human rights advocacy is not a new phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, but what has made the post-2017 arrest waves notable and different, however, is the sheer number and range of individuals targeted over a short period of time as well as the introduction of new repressive practices not seen under previous Saudi leadership.

These new tactics include cases of holding detainees at unofficial places of detention, such as the detention of so-called corruption detainees at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh from late 2017 into early 2018, as well as the detention of prominent women’s rights activists at a “hotel” or “guesthouse” during the summer of 2018. While in unofficial detention centers, allegations have emerged that torture and mistreatment of detainees were rampant. For example, in March 12, 2018 the New York Times reported that 17 Ritz-Carlton detainees required hospitalization for physical abuse, including one man who later died in custody. In addition, in late 2018 Human Rights Watch received credible information from informed sources that authorities had tortured four prominent Saudi women activists while in an unofficial detention center, including by administering electric shocks, whipping the women on their thighs, forcible hugging and kissing, and groping.

Abusive practices also have included long-term arbitrary detention – over two years – without charge, trial, or any clear legal process. For example, some of the so-called corruption detainees arrested in late 2017 remain at this writing in detention without charge or trial, including Turki bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and former governor of Riyadh, Adel al-Fakih, a former minister, and Bakr Binladin, a construction mogul.

 

Mass Arrests and Detention after Mohammed bin Salman becomes Crown Prince

A Timeline of Repression

June 2017

Mohammed bin Salman becomes Crown Prince

June-August 2017

Reorganization of security agencies – creation of Public Prosecution and State Security Presidency as an independent agencies under the royal court 

September 2017

Mass Arrests of Clerics, Academics, Intellectuals

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 70 people detained or arrested, including:

salman-al-awda

Salman al-Awda
Cleric, on trial for alleged Muslim Brotherhood membership facing death penalty

essam-al-zamil

Essam al-Zamil
Economist, on trial for alleged Muslim Brotherhood membership

hassan-farhan-al-maliki

Hassan Farhan al-Maliki
Religious thinker, on trial for religious ideas facing death penalty

October 2017

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 8 people detained or arrested

November 2017

Corruption Arrests, Detainees Held in Ritz Carlton

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 40 people detained or arrested, including:

al-waleed-bin-talal

Alwaleed bin Talal
Businessman, released after turning over assets

mutaib-bin-abdullah

Miteb bin Abdullah
Former minister, released after turning over assets

turki-bin-abdullah

Turki bin Abdullah
Former Riyah governor, in detention without charge or trial

January 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 2 people detained or arrested

March 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 5 people detained or arrested

April 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 3 people detained or arrested

May 2018

Arrests of Women’s Rights Advocates

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 16 people detained or arrested, including:

lujain-al-hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism, including:

aziza-al-youssef

Aziza Yousef
Human rights activist, on trial for her activism

eman-al-nafjan

Eman al-Nafjan
Human rights activist, on trial for her activism

June 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 7 people detained or arrested

July 2018

Further Arrests of Women’s Rights Advocates

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 13 people detained or arrested

samar-badawi

Samar Badawi
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism

nassima-al-sadah

Nassima al-Sadah
Human rights activist, jailed and on trial for her activism

August 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 7 people detained or arrested

September 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 5 people detained or arrested

October 2018

Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

November 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 11 people detained or arrested

December 2018

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

March 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

April 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 13 people detained or arrested

May 2019

Arrests of Writers

salah-al-haidar

Salah al-Haidar
Writer and activist

June 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 1 person detained or arrested

October 2019

Human Rights Watch identified approximately 4 people detained or arrested

Authorities also targeted family members of prominent Saudi dissidents and activists, including by imposing arbitrary travel bans. Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based Saudi dissident, said that Saudi authorities detained his two brothers in August 2018 in an effort to silence his online activism.

Other abusive practices have included extorting financial assets of detainees in exchange for their release outside of any legal process and seeking the death penalty against detainees for acts that do not resemble recognizable crimes. For example, Saudi prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against reformist religious thinker Hassan Farhan al-Maliki on vague charges relating to the expression of his peaceful religious ideas, as well as against the widely known cleric Salman al-Awda on charges stemming solely from his peaceful political statements, associations, and positions. Both men were detained during the September 2017 crackdown.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly used commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018 a Saudi activist’s mobile phone was infected with spyware, and other activists have announced that they were targeted with the same spyware.

Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed defense minister in January 2015, has also ultimate responsibility for Saudi Arabia’s abusive tactics in its four-year-old military intervention in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition which has been conducting military operations against Houthi forces in Yemen, has imposed an aerial and naval blockade and restricted the flow of life-saving goods, exacerbating an existing humanitarian crisis. Saudi-led coalition aircraft have carried out apparently unlawful attacks that hit Yemeni markets, hospitals, schools, funerals, and even a school bus filled with children.

The repressive side of MBS’s domestic record, however, was not given the international scrutiny it deserved until October 2018, when the violent murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate shocked global opinion and led to a broader examination of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

There was massive global media coverage of Khashoggi’s death, especially as it became clear that Saudi state agents perpetrated his murder. This was accompanied by unprecedented condemnation of Saudi abuses. Dozens of business leaders and officials pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Forum, otherwise known as “Davos in the desert,” which took place in Riyadh in late October 2018. On November 15, 2018, the United States imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 17 Saudis in connection with their alleged role in the murder.

Countries and world leaders also called attention to the continuing arbitrary detention of public dissidents and activists, particularly detained women’s rights advocates. On February 14, 2019, for example, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release “women’s rights defenders and all human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and other prisoners of conscience detained and sentenced merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and for their peaceful human rights work.” The resolution also called for an EU-wide ban on export of surveillance systems, reiterated that arms sales to Saudi Arabia contravene the EU’s common position on arms exports, and called for “restricted measures against Saudi Arabia in response to breaches of human rights, including asset freezes and visa bans.”

On March 7, 2019, 36 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council issued the first ever joint statement on Saudi human rights abuses, calling on Saudi Arabia “to release all individuals, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef, Nassima al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon al-Fassi, Mohammed AlBajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan al-Anezi, detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

In February 2019, a bipartisan group of US Congressional representatives led by Congresswoman Lois Frankel issued a resolution calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release jailed Saudi women’s rights activists and hold those responsible for abuses accountable. A bipartisan group of US Senators led by Senator Marco Rubio introduced a similar resolution in the US Senate. Other congressional bills and resolutions pushing for Saudi government accountability for the Khashoggi murder remain under consideration at the time of writing.

Despite this global condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s escalating domestic repression, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continued to enjoy the unwavering support of several key world leaders, including US President Donald Trump. On November 6, 2017, following Saudi Arabia’s “corruption” arrests, Trump tweeted his support, writing, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.... ...Some of those they are harshly treating have been “milking” their country for years!” On November 20, 2018, during a period of widespread criticism over the Khashoggi murder, the Trump administration issued a statement that began with the phrase “[t]he world a dangerous place!” and referred to Jamal Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state” and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The statement went on to argue that the US should continue its arms sales to Saudi Arabia because cancelling them would mean that “Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries.”

In mid-2019, while dozens of dissidents remained on trial and in prison, and with no clear accountability for allegations of torture of detainees or the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi authorities resumed efforts to improve the country’s reputation and shift the international narrative away from the Khashoggi murder, in part by announcing major women’s rights reforms. In June 2018, just weeks after the detentions of the country’s leading women’s rights advocates, Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving. In late July 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi women over 21 will be able to obtain passports without the approval of a male relative, register births of their children, and benefit from new protections against employment discrimination. In early August, Saudi Arabia announced further changes to regulations allowing women over 21 to travel abroad freely without permission of a male guardian. 

Despite major advances for women, ongoing arbitrary and abusive practices against dissidents and activists since mid-2017 and total lack of accountability demonstrate that the rule of law in Saudi Arabia remains weak and can be undermined at will by the country’s political leadership. It remains a criminal offense under the Saudi Arabia’s 2017 counterterrorism law to criticize the king or crown prince “in a manner that brings religion or justice into disrepute” punishable by five to ten years in prison.

In order to demonstrate that Saudi Arabia is truly reforming, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should introduce new reforms to ensure that Saudi citizens enjoy basic human rights, including freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, as well as an independent judiciary and due process of law. The authorities can signal this commitment immediately by releasing from detention all detainees detained arbitrarily or on charges based solely on their peaceful ideas or expression, dropping all charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes against dissidents on trial, and providing accountability for perpetrators of abuses such as torture or arbitrary punishments.

Recommendations

To the Government of Saudi Arabia

  • Immediately release all prisoners held solely for their peaceful practice of their rights to free expression and association, including prisoners convicted of alleged crimes, prisoners currently on trial, and prisoners held arbitrarily;
  • Investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by an independent body and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable and survivors are provided with redress;
  • Allow international monitors to enter the country and grant them unfettered access to detainees;
  • Publicize all information about the ongoing trial of 11 individuals accused of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and implement recommendations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings in her June 2019 report;
  • Halt all acts of intimidation, harassment, and smear campaigns against rights activists and their family members, including those carried out by individuals invested with or claiming religious authority;
  • Halt the imposition of arbitrary travel bans without justification or notification and enact changes to the Travel Documents Law ensuring that travel bans handed down by the Ministry of Interior can be challenged in court;
  • Promulgate a penal code that clearly defines acts that give rise to criminal responsibility in line with international human rights standards. The penal code should also criminalize use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Rescind article 6 of the Information Crimes Law of 2007, which is regularly used to imprison dissidents for peaceful criticism;
  • Repeal vague provisions of the 2017 Law on Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing used to unlawfully limit freedom of expression, including article 30, as well as provisions that allow for indefinite detention of suspects and temporary incommunicado detention;
  • Permit detainees to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court, ensure all detainees are brought promptly before a court to review the legality and necessity of their detention, to guarantee access to legal counsel in a timely manner, and to make statements obtained under duress or torture inadmissible in court;
  • Promptly, and prior to interrogation, allow a detainee to communicate with legal counsel of his or her choice, and inform him or her of this right at police stations, Mabahith offices, and other custodial settings of law enforcement agencies in compliance with the Law of Criminal Procedure;
  • Videotape all interrogations and promptly make the full content of those tapes available to the detainee and his or her counsel;
  • Halt practices requiring a detainee to pledge to abstain from certain acts or perform certain acts as a condition of release, unless such a pledge is part of a formal, judicially sanctioned agreement and does not in any way inhibit the exercise of the detainee’s human rights.

To Saudi Arabia’s Key Allies

  • Sanction Saudi officials at the highest levels who played a role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi or committed acts of torture;
  • Restrict export licenses of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia.
  • Heavily scrutinize weapons transfers that could be used to limit basic rights such as freedom of assembly;
  • Advocate for the release of dissidents and activists detained solely for peaceful criticism of Saudi authorities.

To Technology Companies

  • Halt sales of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia and halt existing contracts providing for ongoing training and technical support to ensure that these activities do not contribute to human rights violations;
  • Provide transparency around past sales of surveillance technologies to Saudi Arabia;
  • Investigate whether surveillance technologies sold to Saudi Arabia were used to spy on dissidents at home and abroad in violation of their terms of service and applicable human rights standards;
  • Advocate for the release of dissidents and activists detained solely for peaceful criticism of Saudi authorities.
Video

Saudi Arabia: Change Comes with Punishing Cost

Arrests, Torture, Murder Accompany Reforms

Methodology

Saudi authorities have not granted Human Rights Watch access to freely conduct in-country research since a research mission to the country in 2006. Human Rights Watch staff have visited Saudi Arabia six times since 2006, but most of these visits remained tightly circumscribed.

The report is based on telephone interviews with Saudi activists and dissidents since 2017, government statements, and court documents, as well as exhaustive reviews of Saudi local media outlets and social media. To protect those we interviewed from retaliation, we have withheld names or used pseudonyms for interviewees, unless they indicated a willingness to be named. Researchers informed all interviewees of the purpose of the interview and the ways in which the data would be used, and none of the interviewees received financial or other incentives for speaking with Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch compiled lists of detainees in Chapter IV from available evidence including interviews with Saudi human rights activists, official statements, and media reports. The lists are not exhaustive. Unless otherwise indicated, the latest available information indicates that individuals listed remain in detention.

On October 21, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Saudi government outlining the general conclusions of our research. As of early November, Saudi authorities had not replied to Human Rights Watch.

I. Saudi Arabia Under New Leadership

Since the establishment of the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 the country has been ruled as an absolute monarchy, first by its founder Abdulaziz Al Saud and then, following his death, by a succession of his sons. While maintaining absolute power over decision making, Saudi leaders historically exercised power in dialogue with informal yet powerful interest groups which maintained the ability to influence decisions. These groups included the country’s conservative Sunni religious establishment of state-affiliated and independent clerics, other members of the royal family, the security services, and influential members of the Saudi business community.[1]

The emergence of Mohammed bin Salman in early 2015 began to alter the status quo. Authorities moved to systematically curtail the influence of these groups and their ability to dictate decisions. In April 2016, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers removed the powers of arrest from the country’s abusive religious police. In late 2017, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Saudi dissidents, authorities arrested prominent independent clerics critical of government policies.[2] In late 2017, authorities also rounded up tens of prominent members of the royal family, current and former government officials, and members of the business community as a part of a campaign against corruption.[3]

Beyond arrests, following his appointment as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman and his father also meticulously moved to restructure the country’s traditional tools of repression, the internal security forces and the prosecution service, removing them from the jurisdiction of the interior ministry and placing them directly under the king, giving the royal court sole oversight over the agencies that conduct arrests and prosecutions.[4] Since his appointment as defense minister in 2015, Mohammed bin Salman has maintained control of the Saudi military. In November 2017 King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman removed control of the Saudi National Guard, an independent military force, from the late King Abdullah’s son Mutaib and jailed him for alleged corruption, effectively bringing all branches of the Saudi armed forces under royal court control.[5]

When confronted in an interview with Bloomberg in October 2018 about Saudi Arabia’s mass arrests, Mohammed bin Salman justified them as necessary for enacting reforms in Saudi Arabia, stating:

… I believe that a lot of movements that happen around the world, they happen with a price. So for example if you look at the United States of America, when for example they wanted to free the slaves. What was the price? Civil war. It divided America for a few years. Thousands, tens of thousands of people died to win the freedom for the slaves…. So if there is a small price in that area, it’s better than paying a big debt to do that move…[6]

Consolidation of Power and Restructuring the Security Apparatus

When Salman bin Abdulaziz acceded to the Saudi throne in January 2015, Prince Mohammed, the first son from his third marriage, was a relative unknown. Unlike some of his older brothers, who included Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab and Muslim ever to fly in outer space, or Abdulaziz bin Salman, a major figure in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, Prince Mohammed did not have a significant public profile prior to 2015 nor had he studied outside the country like many prominent royal family members.[7] Rather, he had quietly served his father, primarily as an advisor to Salman while he was Minister of Defense and governor of Riyadh. According to Karen Elliott House, Prince Mohammed became close to his father by remaining by his side while he grieved the deaths of his eldest and third eldest sons in 2001 and 2002 respectively, both from heart disease.[8]

Mohammed bin Salman burst onto the international arena in January 2015 when his father, immediately after becoming king, appointed him defense minister (Salman’s former position).[9] As defense minister he quickly established himself as less cautious than his predecessors, facilitating the launch of major military operations in Yemen in March 2015 by a coalition of countries. The military campaign aimed to roll back the advances of the Ansar Allah militant group (known as the Houthis), a Zaydi Shia group which had taken over most of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, and expelled the country’s internationally-recognized government headed by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

When King Salman took the throne, he promoted Mohammed bin Nayef, Mohammed bin Salman’s cousin and former interior minister who successfully led Saudi Arabia’s counter-insurgency efforts after 2004, as deputy crown prince behind Crown Prince Muqrin, who is Mohammed bin Salman’s uncle. Within three months, however, King Salman altered the line of succession, sacking Muqrin and elevating Mohammed bin Nayef to crown prince and Mohammed bin Salman to deputy crown prince.[10]

Between April 2015 and June 2017, the division of power between Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Nayef was clear, with Mohammed bin Salman in control of the country’s economy and military, and Mohammed bin Nayef in control of domestic security affairs.

On June 17, 2017, however, the first major crack in the fragile arrangement appeared when King Salman issued a royal decree removing Othman al-Muhrij from his position as director of the country’s Public Security Directorate (police), a major agency within the Interior Ministry.[11] The same day, he also issued a royal decree severing the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) from the Interior Ministry and re-establishing it as the Public Prosecution, an “independent” entity reporting directly to the king and headed by a new head prosecution official called the Attorney General. The royal decree stated that the change was “in [accordance] with the rules and principles of many countries of the world,” and based on “the necessity of separation between executive authority in the state and the bureau and its work since it is part of the judicial authority.”[12]

Show Before Summer 2017 or After Summer 2017

Before Summer 2017
After Summer 2017
 
 
 
 
 
 
ROYAL COURT
King Salman
King Salman
Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman
mohammed-bin-nayef
Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Nayef
Security Agencies
abdulaziz-bin-saud-bin-nayef
Interior Ministry
Abdulaziz bin Saud Bin Nayef
  • Public Security Directorate (police)
abdulaziz-bin-mohammed-al-huwairini
State Security Presidency
Abdulaziz bin Mohammed al-Huwairini
  • General Investigation Directorate (Mabahith)
  • Special Security Forces
  • Special Emergency Forces
mohammed-bin-salman
Defense Ministry
Mohammed bin Salman
  • Royal Saudi Land Forces (Saudi army)
  • Royal Saudi Air Forces
  • Royal Saudi Navel Forces
green
Public Prosecution
Saud bin Abdullah al-Mujib
green
National Guard
Abdallah bin Bandar
Khalid-bin-ali-al-humaidan
General Intelligence Presidency
Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan
mohammed-bin-nayef
Interior Ministry
Mohammed bin Nayef
  • General Investigation Directorate (Mabahith)
  • Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution
  • Public Security Directorate (police)
  • Special Security Forces
  • Special Emergency Forces
Mohammed bin Nayef sent to house arrest
mutaib-bin-abdullah
National Guard
Mutaib bin Abdullah
Mutaib bin Abdullah detained during 2017 corruption arrest and held in Ritz
ahmed-al-assiri
General Intelligence Deputy
Ahmed al-Assiri
Ahmed al-Assiri implicated in Khashoggi killing, reportedly on trial
 
 

The Saudi prosecution service is a major tool of Saudi repression and has been used to terrorize peaceful Saudi dissidents since 1988 through various means, including harassment, endless summonses for interrogation, arbitrary detention, and prosecution in blatantly unfair trials on spurious charges.[13] These practices accelerated and increased following the 2017 reorganization.

On June 21, within days of removing the prosecution service from Mohammed bin Nayef’s control, King Salman acted decisively by stripping him of all his official positions and appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and presumptive future king.[14] To secure his elevation, Mohammed bin Salman reportedly garnered all but 3 votes in the country’s allegiance council, which decides on succession issues and is made up of 34 royal family members who are sons or represent the families of sons of Saudi Arabia’s founding King Abdulaziz.[15]

Citing US intelligence officials, the New York Times reported on June 28, 2017 that Mohammed bin Nayef had not only been deposed but also placed under house arrest at his Jeddah palace and prevented from leaving the country.[16] An informed source told Human Rights Watch that in addition to placing Mohammed bin Nayef under house arrest, authorities also purged many officials loyal to him from the security apparatus, including by detaining two high-level Interior Ministry officials. Another security official close to Mohammed bin Nayef who served as Saudi Arabia’s liaison to western intelligence agencies fled the country.[17] The source said that authorities banned immediate family members of Mohammed bin Nayef and these officials from travel and froze their bank accounts and assets.[18] The sidelining of Mohammed bin Nayef and his loyalists effectively removed the most serious royal challenger to Mohammed bin Salman.

For the remainder of 2017, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed moved against other individuals who could potentially curb their power, culminating in the establishment of an anticorruption committee headed by the crown prince which carried out so-called corruption arrests on November 4, 2017, when powerful figures within the royal family and influential Saudis such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a prominent businessman, Abdulaziz bin Fahd, a former cabinet member, Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh, Fahd bin Abdullah, a former defense minister, and Mutaib bin Abdullah, then-Minister of National Guard, and at least nine other princes were detained, stripped of their positions, and forced to hand over financial assets in exchange for their freedom.[19] The so-called corruption arrests appeared to especially target the sons of the late King Abdullah. Some royal detainees, including Turki bin Abdullah, remain in detention without charge at the time of writing.

In order to cement his position as crown prince, beginning in mid-2017 King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed sought to overhaul the security infrastructure of the state and effectively downgrade the previously powerful role of interior minister.

In addition to placing the prosecution service under the purview of the royal court, King Salman also created a new agency, the Presidency of State Security, which absorbed the intelligence and counterterrorism functions formerly held by the Interior Ministry. The new agency contains the General Directorate of Investigation (known as Mabahith, the notorious domestic security agency) as well as Saudi Arabia’s special counterterrorism forces, which is headed by longtime Interior Ministry official Abdulaziz bin Mohammed al-Howairini. Commenting on the change, Arab News said, “…after the rise of the terror threat [in the early 2000s], the Interior Ministry concentrated much of its efforts on fighting this scourge. This led to the addition of a large number of responsibilities, which affected the ministry’s other services such as police, traffic and the passport department.”[20]

Following the reduction of responsibilities of the Interior Ministry, King Salman appointed a new minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, then 34, a relative of Mohammed bin Salman and son of the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.[21] The appointment of Prince Abdulaziz kept the interior minister portfolio with the Nayef faction of the royal family, which has held the position nearly continuously since 1975, but the prestige and power of the position had been drastically reduced.

The centralization of power also extended to the military, whereby in November 2017 King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman removed control of the Saudi National Guard, an independent military force, from the late King Abdullah’s son Mutaib and jailed him for alleged corruption, effectively bringing all branches of the Saudi armed forces under the control of the royal court.[22]

Since his appointment as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has chaired both of the Saudi Council of Ministers’ subcommittees, putting him in charge of both economic affairs as well as political and security affairs.

A Plan to Transform the Economy

Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power and mass arrests, which he labelled a “small price” in comparison with other “movements around the world,” allowed him to propose his own solutions to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning economic crisis without hinderance or obstruction from Saudi Arabia’s traditional interest groups.

When King Abdullah died in January 2015, the country faced a major economic crisis as global oil prices were plummeting from a high of US$115 per barrel in June 2014 to $35 per barrel in February 2016, wiping out 77 to 88 percent of the country’s income.[23] In September 2014, the International Monetary Fund warned that without cuts to government spending Saudi Arabia would face a budget deficit in 2015 and the prospect of spending down its cash reserves.[24] The IMF’s prediction proved accurate – in late 2015 Saudi Arabia announced a budget deficit of 367 billion riyals ($97.9 billion).[25] Furthermore, despite years of policies aimed at overhauling the Saudi private sector to ensure more employment opportunities for Saudi citizens as opposed to foreign migrant workers, the Saudi youth unemployment rate in 2014 and 2015 remained around 30 percent, a worrying statistic given that two thirds of the Saudi population is under 30 years old.[26] In late 2015 a Brookings Institution op-ed warned that Saudi Arabia “faces an economic time bomb, which, if not defused, will have severe and possibly irreversible effects both nationally and internationally.”[27]

Following his appointment by his father to head the economic council, Prince Mohammed bin Salman quickly became the face of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to counter its economic woes and overhaul the country’s economy to make it less susceptible to oil price fluctuations. By early 2016, in response to a question from the Economist on whether Saudi Arabia was facing an economic crisis, Prince Mohammed stated as follows:

We’re too far from it. We are further than the ’80s and the ’90s. We have the third-largest reserve in the world. We were able to increase our non-oil revenues this year alone by 29%. We were able to come out with more positive things than what most people thought about the economy of Saudi Arabia, regarding deficit and regarding spending. And we have clear programmes over the next five years. We announced some of them, and the rest we will announce in the near future.[28]

In April 2016, Mohammad bin Salman made good on his promise by announcing the country’s signature economic reform plan, Vision 2030, a sweeping development program aimed at diversifying the economy and creating a “global investment powerhouse.”[29] The plan lays out major strategic objectives for economic and social change accompanied by a host of programs to address issues such as housing, quality of life, pubic investment, financial sector development, and improving government performance, each with specified objectives and five-year milestones.[30]

Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has also invested heavily in creating a local entertainment industry. In May 2016, authorities created the General Entertainment Authority, a new agency with plans to invest billions of dollars in the areas of music, entertainment, sports, art, and film, among others.[31] In 2018, authorities allowed movie theaters to open, with AMC, the US movie theatre chain, opening the first movie theater in Saudi Arabia in 35 years in Riyadh. In 2019 Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $35 billion into building 2,500 movie screens across the country by 2020.[32] At the time of writing Saudi Arabia had hosted concerts major international artists such as Mariah Carey, Yanni, Andrea Bocelli, Janet Jackson, and 50 Cent.[33] The establishment of an entertainment industry has also provoked controversies, however, with the country’s Grand Mufti denouncing public entertainment and movie theaters in early 2017, the sacking of the General Entertainment Authority’s chairman in June 2018 following a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh featuring women wearing tight clothing, and rapper Nicki Minaj pulling out of the July 2019 Jeddah World Fest following pressure from human rights  groups.[34]

The signature piece of Prince Mohammed’s economic overhaul plan is to generate revenue through an initial public offering (IPO) of a limited percentage of the country’s massive state oil company, Saudi Aramco, on an international stock exchange. While New York, London, and Hong Kong were initially considered as venues for the IPO,  Reuters reported on October 29 that Saudi authorities would announce the start of the IPO in early November 2019 and float a one to two percent stake of the company on Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul stock exchange.[35]

Prince Mohammed’s efforts to attract international investment were temporarily hindered by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, with many international investors, financiers, and business leaders canceling their participation in Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative forum in late October 2018 as well as investors pulling their money out of the Saudi stock market.[36] By April 2019, however the Financial Times and the New York Times reported that many businesses had returned to invest in Saudi Arabia.[37] Nevertheless, whether Saudi Arabia can obtain enough capital through international investment to overhaul the country’s economy and meet the needs of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing society remains to be seen.

II. Due Process Violations

Saudi Arabia’s arrest campaigns since 2017 are notable for both the number of individuals targeted over a short period of time and the introduction of new ad hoc abusive practices that represent a significant deterioration in a country where the rule of law was already tenuous. These practices include the use of unofficial places of detention, extorting individuals to hand over assets or make statements in return for their release, and seeking the death penalty for “crimes” based on individuals’ peaceful speech and activities, among others.

Some of the ad hoc and abusive practices introduced since 2017 are associated with Mohammed bin Salman’s former advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, whom King Salman fired in October 2018 for his alleged role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.[38] Citing US intelligence sources, the New York Times reported that the crown prince authorized a secret campaign against Saudi dissidents over a year before Khashoggi’s murder, empowering his then-advisor, al-Qahtani, to oversee a team dubbed the “Rapid Intervention Group,” which conducted at least a dozen operations prior to the targeting of Khashoggi in October 2018.[39] One of the operations the report cites is the targeting of Saudi women’s rights activists, and the timeline of the group’s formation corresponds roughly with the beginning of the arrest campaigns in September 2017.[40] In mid-August 2017, just before the arrests began, al-Qahtani tweeted the following comment: “Do you think that I make things up with guidance? I am a trustworthy employee who carries out the orders of my masters the king and crown prince.”[41]

Despite a Public Prosecution statement alleging that al-Qahtani was involved in the Khashoggi affair, he is reportedly not one of the 11 individuals on trial for the murder, and the Wall Street Journal reported in February 2019 that al-Qahtani continues to serve as an informal advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.[42] In October 2019, Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom Khalid bin Bandar stated that al-Qahtani remains under investigation and “in his home,” but that “no concrete evidence” has emerged regarding his involvement in the murder.[43]

Long-term Arbitrary Detention without Charge

Saudi Arabia has a long, notorious record of holding criminal suspects without charge or trial for months and even years. In May 2018, for example, Human Rights Watch analyzed data from a public online Saudi Interior Ministry prisoner database, which revealed that authorities at that time had detained 2,305 people who are under investigation for more than six months without referring them to a judge, while 1,875 were detained for more than a year and 251 for over three years while under investigation.[44]

Saudi Arabia’s Law of Criminal Procedure provides that a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to six months by an order of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (now Public Prosecution). After six months, the law requires that a detainee “be directly transferred to the competent court or be released.”[45]

Despite Saudi law, however, many individuals targeted in arrest campaigns since 2017 were held up to a year without charge, and the legal status of others remains unclear, particularly among some of those arrested in the November 2017 “corruption” crackdown. Those who remain in detention without clear legal status at this writing include Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the former governor of Riyadh and son of the late King Abdullah; Prince Turki’s associate Faisal al-Jarba; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad; a former planning minister, Adel al-Fakieh; and a construction mogul, Bakr Binladin.[46]

An informed source told Human Rights Watch that Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and his father, both businessmen, have remained in detention without charge or trial since their arrests in January 2018. The source said that Prince Salman believes he was detained in retaliation for his advocacy on behalf of his detained family members after the November arrests. To the source’s knowledge, the authorities did not freeze Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz or his father’s assets or ask for financial settlements. They are in al-Ha’ir prison, south of Riyadh. Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is married to a daughter of King Abdullah.[47]

Another informed source told Human Rights Watch that Faisal al-Jarba, a confidant of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, remains in detention without charge.[48] The Washington Post reported that in June, the Jordanian authorities had detained al-Jarba in Amman, where he had fled to seek safety, and eventually drove him to the Saudi border and handed him over to Saudi authorities. Prince Turki himself also remains in detention without charge, the source said.[49]

Authorities also detained and held a Saudi American medical doctor and popular television host, Walid al-Fitaihi, for 21 months without charge or trial. A family member told Human Rights Watch that authorities initially held al-Fitaihi in the Ritz-Carlton for two months before transferring him to al-Ha’ir prison south of Riyadh.[50] In late January 2019 the authorities transferred him again to Dhahban prison north of Jeddah. The family member said that in early March 2019 Saudi authorities raided the family’s home in Jeddah following a New York Times story alleging that al-Fitaihi was mistreated in detention.[51] He said that 15-16 men came to the house, bringing along al-Fitaihi himself wearing arm and leg shackles, and took all the computers and mobile phones in the house. The family member said he did not know why al-Fitaihi had been targeted for arrest. On August 1, 2019, Saudi authorities released al-Fitaihi pending the outcome of his trial.[52]

Those detained in the September 2017 arrest wave, including Salman al-Awda, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, Ali al-Omari, and Awad al-Qarni, remained in detention without trial for nearly a year before authorities finally began to charge them and put them on trial in September 2018. Nevertheless, some trials have been marred by unexplained delays and postponements, including the trial of Salman al-Awda. Authorities took al-Awda to court for a scheduled hearing on July 28, 2019, but after waiting five hours the court abruptly postponed the hearing until November without explanation. Authorities then suddenly held a series of hearings in early October and scheduled the final hearing for October 10, but on October 10 they postponed the final hearing without explanation.[53]

Similarly, for Saudi women’s rights activists detained beginning in May 2018, authorities held them for 10 months before filing charges.[54] After three or four trial sessions in March and April, however, Saudi authorities do not appear to have convened any substantive hearings in their cases, for which there has been no explanation.[55] At the time of writing most of the women are free but banned from travel abroad pending the outcomes of their trials, but others, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdulaziz, and Nassima al-Sadah, remain in detention.

Extended detention without charge or trial or without an appearance before a judge is arbitrary and violates both Saudi law and international human rights standards.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that detention is arbitrary when the detaining authority fails to observe, wholly or in part, the norms related to the right to due process, including for a prompt hearing before a judge following the initial detention.[56] Principle 11 of the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that a detainee must be “given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority,” and that a judicial or other authority should be empowered to review the decision to continue  detention.[57]

The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, also guarantees the right of anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge to be brought promptly before a judge or other officer of the law, and to have a trial within a reasonable time or be released. The charter says that, “Pre-trial detention shall in no case be the general rule.”[58]

Unofficial Places of Detention

In flagrant violation of Saudi law and international standards, Saudi authorities held some detainees in unofficial places of detention. The most high-profile incident was the detention of dozens of leading businesspeople, members of the royal family, and current and former government officials in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel between November 2017 and February 2018.[59] In January 2018, a spokesperson from Marriott, which owns the Ritz-Carlton brand, said, “The hotel is operating under the directive of local authorities and not as a traditional hotel for the time being.”[60]

In addition, Saudi women activists detained beginning in May 2018 say that most of their mistreatment took place at an unofficial detention facility they called a “hotel” between May and August, after which they were moved to Dhahban prison. One source indicated that the women were taken to a room called an “officer’s guesthouse,” but the location of this room is unclear.[61] A family member of Loujain al-Hathloul told the New York Times that the women were held in what appeared to be an unused palace in Jeddah.[62]

Holding detainees at unofficial detention centers violates international standards. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on article 7of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), stated that “…provisions should be made for detainees to be held in places officially recognized as places of detention and for their names and places of detention, as well as for the names of persons responsible for their detention, to be kept in registers readily available and accessible to those concerned, including relatives and friends.”[63]

Extorting Financial Assets or Public Statements in Return for Release

After detaining over 300 leading businesspeople, royal family members, and current and former government officials at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in November 2017, Saudi authorities reportedly pressured them to hand over assets to the state in return for their release outside of any clear or recognizable legal process.[64]

Many reportedly made deals. Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, for example, the head of the MBC Group, reportedly turned over the control of the company to Saudi authorities and was released in January 2018.[65] In March 2019, Reuters reported that Bakr Binladin and two of his brothers detained in the Ritz-Carlton were forced to sell a significant percentage of the Binladin Group construction company to Istidama, a subsidiary of the Saudi Finance Ministry, and all were removed from the restructured company’s board.[66] Authorities released prominent businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in January 2018 after he reached a financial settlement with Saudi authorities but remained in control of his company. He called his arrest a “misunderstanding.”[67] Likewise, authorities released prominent businessmen Amr Dabbagh and Mohammed al-Amoudi in January 2019 after they reportedly made deals, though the terms have not been made public.[68]

An informed source with close ties to six men held at the Ritz-Carlton between November 2017 and January 2018 told Human Rights Watch that authorities extorted financial settlements from detainees through physical coercion as well as freezing their bank accounts and banning their relatives from travel abroad. He said that some detainees were forced to transfer money held in bank accounts abroad into the country so that Saudi authorities could seize it, and that authorities only released some detainees after they signed IOUs pledging to pay specified sums of money.[69]

In addition to financial settlements, informed sources told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities also offered to release two prominent women’s rights activists in mid-2019 if they went on television to refute allegations that authorities had tortured them in detention. In August 2019, family members of Loujain al-Hathloul said that authorities had recently offered her release and an end to her trial if she signed a statement refuting the allegations of torture, which she initially agreed to do, but refused the offer after the authorities said she must make the statement on camera.[70] An informed source told Human Rights Watch that a high-level official with the Presidency of State Security visited another detained woman activist in July or August and offered to release her and provide financial compensation if she refuted the torture allegations on television.[71]

Arbitrary Travel Bans on Family Members

In addition to directly targeting Saudi citizens for arrest since September 2017, in some cases authorities have also punished their family members by imposing arbitrary bans on travel outside the country or freezing their assets and access to government services.

A family member of the detained cleric Salman al-Awda told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities imposed arbitrary travel bans on 17 members of his immediate family following the arrest. He said that the family only found out about the bans when another family member attempted to leave the country and was refused. He said the immigration officer told his family member that the royal court itself had imposed the travel bans for unspecified reasons.[72]

In addition, a family member of detained doctor Walid al-Fitaihi, who has US as well as Saudi nationality, told Human Rights Watch that following al-Fitaihi’s arrest Saudi authorities arbitrarily imposed travel bans on all members of al-Fitaihi’s immediate family, all of whom are also US citizens. He said that he went to the airport to attempt to travel out of the country several times in 2018 but was stopped each time after a fingerprint scan at the immigration checkpoint. Officials there did not give him an explanation for the ban.[73]

A source close to a former Saudi intelligence official purged alongside Mohammed bin Nayef told Human Rights Watch that Saudi authorities banned two of his children from travel abroad and froze all of their financial assets inside the country.[74] He also said that he has spoken with former detainees who were permitted to travel abroad but only on condition that they leave a close family member behind as collateral to ensure their  return.[75]

Saudi human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that authorities also imposed arbitrary travel bans on family members of prominent women’s rights activists following their detentions in May 2018.[76]

In arbitrarily imposing the travel bans on family members of detainees, the Ministry of Interior appears to have broken Saudi law. Aside from a judicial ruling by a court, the interior minister may impose bans “for defined reasons related to security and for a known period” and must notify those banned within one week of the ban.[77] For family members of detainees, in no case did the ministry inform those on whom they imposed travel bans of the bans themselves or the specific reasons for subjecting them to the bans.

Arbitrary travel bans violate international human rights law which guarantees everyone the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.[78]

Seeking the Death Penalty for Peaceful Political Affiliation and Ideas

Saudi Arabia carries out more executions per year than all but a few countries. Since 2014, Saudi Arabia has executed over 860 individuals, mostly for murder, violent acts, and nonviolent drug crimes.[79] Outside of those executed for drug crimes, capital trials involved accusations of acts of violence in nearly all cases. In 2018, however, Saudi prosecutors began seeking the death penalty against individuals solely based on their peaceful political affiliations or ideas.

Those currently facing capital trials absent any allegation of violence include the prominent cleric Salman al-Awda. In September 2018, local Saudi media outlets printed the first five of al-Awda’s charges, and Human Rights Watch reviewed the others from a copy of the court’s charge sheet it obtained.[80] The initial charges are mostly related to his alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations supposedly connected to it. One such organization listed in the charge sheet, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, was not named as a terrorist organization by Saudi authorities until November 20, 2018, over two months after al-Awda’s arrest.[81]

The first charge against al-Awda reads:

Corrupting the land by repeatedly endeavoring to shake the structure of the nation and bring about civil strife; inflaming society against the rulers and stirring up unrest; and connection to characters and organizations and holding meetings and conferences inside and outside the kingdom to enact the agenda of a terrorist organization against the nation and its rulers.[82]

Multiple charges relate to his public solidarity with imprisoned dissidents, opposing the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar in mid-2017, and alleged ties to the Qatari government. Other charges include having “a suspicious relationship” with the former Gaddafi government in Libya, publicly opposing Saudi Arabia’s hosting of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, “mocking governmental achievements,” and “offending patriotism and loyalty to the government and the country…”[83]

Another detainee against whom Saudi authorities are seeking the death penalty is Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, a reformist religious thinker. Human Rights Watch reviewed al-Maliki’s charge sheet, which consists of 14 charges, nearly all with no resemblance to recognized crimes.[84] The first two charges relate to his peaceful expression of his religious opinions about the veracity of certain sayings of the prophet and his criticism of several seventh century Islamic figures. Other charges include “insulting the country’s rulers and the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars, and describing them as extremist,” and accusing Gulf countries of supporting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).[85]

Prosecutors also charged al-Maliki with praising Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and “having sympathy” for the Houthi group in Yemen, and expressing his religious views in television interviews, attending discussion groups in Saudi Arabia, writing books and studies and publishing them outside of Saudi Arabia, possession of banned books, defaming a Kuwaiti man by accusing him on Twitter of supporting ISIS, and violating the country’s notorious cybercrime law.[86]

The charge sheet also accuses al-Maliki of crossing illegally from Saudi Arabia into northern Yemen for research about his family origins and history in 2001, after Saudi authorities had banned al-Maliki from travel abroad. Saudi Arabia does not have a comprehensive written penal code and only a limited number of written criminal regulations. Charges not based on a written text, which include all but one of al-Maliki’s, do not have a statute of limitation.[87]

Evidence cited by prosecutors in the charge sheet consisted entirely of al-Maliki’s alleged confession, his tweets, and material confiscated from his home and electronic devices. It says that he allegedly confessed to “calling for freedom of belief, and that it is the right of any person to adopt beliefs that he sees as correct, and it is not permitted to restrict these [beliefs] or impose certain beliefs,” as well as his denial that the crime of apostacy should be punishable by death, “seeing that there is no truth to it legally.” He also allegedly confessed to saying that “those [clerics] who ban singing or music in all its forms are extremists, as there is no evidence for banning it and that the prophet [peace be upon him] listened to it.”[88]

International standards, including the Arab Charter on Human Rights, ratified by Saudi Arabia, require countries that retain the death penalty to use it only for the “most serious crimes,” and in exceptional circumstances. In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions stated that where used, the death penalty should be limited to cases in which a person is intentionally killed and not used to punish drug-related offenses.

Cyber Spying and Online Harassment

In addition to the post-2017 arrest waves, Saudi Arabia has reportedly deployed commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018 the mobile phone of Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent Saudi activists based in Canada, was targeted and infected with spyware known as Pegasus, which is produced and sold by the Israeli technology firm NSO group.[89] According to Citizen Lab, “Once a phone is infected [with Pegasus spyware], the customer has full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos. They can even surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop on their targets.”[90]

In addition to Abdulaziz, other Saudis abroad have alleged that the Saudi government targeted them with cyberattacks using Pegasus in recent years, including an unnamed researcher for Amnesty International, UK-based Saudi human rights activist Yahya Assiri, and UK-based Saudi comedian and dissident Ghanim al-Masarir .[91]

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed in March 2019 that Saudi officials acquired spyware tools from NSO Group, but that the company had “frozen new requests from the kingdom” over concerns that it may have been “misused.”[92] In response to growing international criticism over its sales of spyware to abusive governments, NSO group announced a new Human Rights Policy in September 2019, pledging to “identify, prevent and mitigate the risk of adverse human rights impact” related to the use of its spyware and surveillance products.[93]

Saudi officials have openly used Twitter to harass and target dissidents. On August 17, 2017, Saud al-Qahtani himself started the hashtag “#The_Black_List” in which he called on Saudis to suggest online critics to target.[94] Before his dismissal in October 2018, al-Qahtani also served as the director of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming, a governmental organization that seeks to “build national and professional capabilities in the fields of cyber security and programming in line with established and internationally recognized practices and standards.”[95]

In addition, rumors have surfaced among Saudi dissidents that Saudi authorities may have the capability of unmasking anonymous Twitter users. The rumors appear driven in part by a Tweet by al-Qahtani from August 18, 2017, in which he states: “Does a pseudonym protect you from #the_black_list? No 1) States have a method to learn the owner of the pseudonym 2) the IP address can be learned using a number of methods 3) a secret I will not say.”[96]

More broadly, Saudi Arabia’s targeting of critics has been a growing problem, including online critics on Twitter, whom authorities have arrested or intimidated into silence.[97]

III. Torture Allegations

In addition to the mass arrest campaigns of dissidents since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, information from Saudi activists and media reports indicates that incidents of torture and mistreatment in detention have also increased.

In March 2019, the Guardian newspaper reported that it had received several leaked medical reports following examinations of at least 60 detainees commissioned by King Salman. The medical reports reportedly noted that detainees were suffering from ailments including “malnutrition, cuts, bruises and burns.”[98] Detainees examined included Adel Banaemah, Mohammed Al Bisher, Fahad al-Sunaidi, Zuhair Kutbi, Abdulaziz Fawzan al-Fawzan, Yasser al-Ayyaf, as well as prominent women’s rights activists Samar Badawi, Hatoon al-Fassi, and Abeer Namankani.[99]

The most high-profile allegations of torture and mistreatment that have come to light stem from the Ritz-Carlton detentions between November 2017 and February 2018 and the allegations of torture by women’s rights advocates from May to August 2018.

Alleged Torture of Women’s Rights Advocates

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch obtained credible evidence that Saudi authorities tortured at least four women activists in detention. The torture included electric shocks, whippings, waterboarding, and sexual harassment and assault including touching and groping.[100]

The treatment of prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul was described in detail by her sister in an article for the New York Times in January 2019. According to her sister, “[Loujain] said she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed and threatened with rape and murder. My parents then saw that her thighs were blackened by bruises.”[101] Other human rights groups have reported additional allegations, including prolonged solitary confinement of the women, displaying naked photographs of one of the women during interrogation, beatings on the feet (falaka or bastinado), and forcing two detainees to kiss each other on the lips.[102]

According to informed sources, the torture sessions took place at an unofficial detention facility called a “hotel” or “officer’s guesthouse” near Jeddah. The women were held there between May and August. One source told Human Rights Watch that the men responsible for mistreating the women were from “cyber security,” a probable reference to officers working under the authority of the former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, who was reportedly fired for his role in the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.[103] After transferring all the women to Dhahban Prison in August, sources stated that authorities would occasionally take women out of the prison for additional torture sessions at the unofficial detention facility.[104]

Around December 2018, following reporting of the allegations, authorities transferred some of the women to al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh, others to Dammam Prison in Dammam, while some remain in Dhahban Prison.[105] Western media outlets have reported that Saudi authorities opened two investigations into the torture allegations by women’s rights advocates, one by Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, a government agency, and one by Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecutor, which reports directly to the royal court.[106]

On March 1, 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution announced that it would refer the women to trial. A representative of the prosecution office denied the torture allegations, telling media that the allegations had been investigated by the Public Prosecution and Human Rights Commission and found to be unsubstantiated.[107]

Ritz-Carlton Allegations

In March 2018, the New York Times reported that Saudi authorities used physical abuse to coerce so-called corruption detainees to hand over assets following their detention in the Ritz-Carton hold in early November 2017. The report stated that at least 17 people required hospitalization for abuse in detention, including one, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, an aide to Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who later died in detention. The report cited a person who saw the body, which had signs of physical abuse including a twisted neck and burns that appeared to be from electric shocks.[108]

The Times expanded on these initial allegations in November 2018, reporting that the mistreatment included “beatings, electrical shocks and suspension upside down for long periods.” The November report also said that some former detainees had shown their family members lasting scars from beatings and electric shocks, and in one case a photo of the bruises and scars was shared with the Times.[109]

The Times also reported that among those tortured in the Ritz-Carlton was medical doctor Walid al-Fitaihi who holds both Saudi and American nationality. During an interrogation session which he later reportedly recounted to friend, “he was slapped, blindfolded, stripped to his underwear and bound to a chair. He was shocked with electricity in what appears to have been a single session of torture that lasted about an hour.”[110]

The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2018 that another detainee, Hani Khoja, a former employee of the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, was repeatedly beaten by Saudi authorities at the Ritz-Carlton. [111] Authorities eventually released Khoja in January 2019.[112]

IV. Comprehensive List of Detainees

After Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, the Saudi authorities initiated a series of arrest campaigns which appeared aimed at stamping out all domestic opposition to his policies and reforms. The arrests targeted clerics, intellectuals, journalists, businesspeople, royal family members, high-level government officials, and women’s rights advocates.

Human Rights Watch compiled lists of detainees from available evidence including interviews with Saudi human rights activists, official statements, and media reports. The lists are not exhaustive. Unless otherwise indicated, the latest available information indicates that individuals listed remain in detention.

Human Rights Watch does not endorse all the views expressed by individuals mentioned in this report. These views, which in some cases may be offensive or objectionable, nevertheless do not amount to speech that Saudi Arabia can lawfully restrict without violating international human rights standards.

Arrests of Dissidents Beginning in September 2017

In September 2017, three months after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, Saudi authorities launched a sweeping arrest campaign targeting dozens of prominent Saudis including clerics, academics, intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists.

Among the individuals arrested were popular clerics Salman al-Awda, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. Al-Awda and al-Qarni were members of the “Sahwa Movement” in the early 1990s, which called for reforms in Saudi Arabia including an elected parliament and constitution. Both maintain large followings on social media platforms. Saudi authorities also targeted individuals such as Essam al-Zamil, an economist who had called into question Saudi projections of revenue from the Aramco initial public offering (IPO), as well as Mustafa al-Hasan, an academic, Abdullah Al-Malki, a reformist academic and writer, Hassan al-Maliki, a religious reformist, Khalid al-Alkami, a journalist, and dozens of other clerics including Ibrahim al-Nasser, and Ibrahim al-Fares.[113] Authorities imprisoned human rights activists Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid around the same time, after both had recently lost appeals of convictions for their human rights work following unfair  trials.[114]

A September 12 Saudi Press Agency announcement confirmed the arrests, stating that the Presidency of State Security, the country’s new counterterrorism agency, had worked “to monitor the intelligence activities of a group of people for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests, methodology, capabilities, and social peace in order to stir up sedition and prejudice national unity.” It said the group included Saudis and foreigners.[115]

Reuters noted that many of those detained had failed to sufficiently back Saudi policies, including the policy of isolating Qatar.[116] A relative of Salman al-Awda told Human Rights Watch he said he believed that authorities arrested al-Awda because he hadn’t complied with an order from Saudi authorities to tweet a specific text to support the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar.[117]

Detainee List

2017

  1. Awad al-Qarni, preacher, university professor, and author, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  2. Ali al-Omari, imam, author, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  3. Salman al-Awda, sheikh, detained in September 2017, on trial, public prosecution seeking the death penalty for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  4. Ali Badahdah, imam, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  5. Idris Abkar, imam, detained in September 2017.
  6. Khaled al-Shannar, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  7. Adel Bana’mah, preacher, academic, detained in September 2017.
  8. Khalid al-Mhawesh, academic and public figure, detained in September 2017.
  9. Abdullah al-Sweilem, imam, detained in September 2017.
  10. Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in September 2017, serving eight-year prison sentence.
  11. Issa al-Hamid, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in September 2017, serving nine-year prison sentence.
  12. Abdul Aziz Al Abdullatif, sheikh, detained in September 2017, serving five-year prison sentence following 2018 conviction.
  13. Mustafa al-Hasan, academic scholar and novelist, detained in September 2017.
  14. Ziad Bin Naheet, poet, detained in September 2017 and released in December 2017.
  15. Essam al-Zamel, economic researcher and writer, detained in September 2017, on trial for alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.
  16. Abdullah al-Maliki, academic, detained in September 2017.
  17. Khalid al-Awda, brother of Salman al-Awda, detained in September 2017.
  18. Abd al-Muhsin al-Ahmad, doctor, preacher, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  19. Walid al-Huwairini, Islamic scholar, detained in September 2017.
  20. Yusuf al-Ahmad, preacher, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  21. Ibrahim al-Fares, preacher, university assistant professor, detained in September 2017.
  22. Ibrahim al-Naser, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  23. Muhammad al-Habdan, imam, detained in September 2017.
  24. Ghorm al-Bishi, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  25. Mohammed bin Abdel Aziz al-Khodeiri, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  26. Mohammed Musa al-Shareef, imam, detained in September 2017.
  27. Ibrahim al-Harithi, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  28. Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, preacher, detained in September 2017, on trial facing charges related to his religious ideas.
  29. Al-Abbas al-Maliki, son of the Islamic scholar Hasan al-Maliki, detained in October 2017.
  30. Khaled al-Ajimi, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  31. Fahd al-Snaidy, media figure, detained in September 2017, on trial beginning in September 2018.
  32. Mohammad al-Khudairi, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  33. Mohammad al-Shannar, preacher, detained in September 2017, on trial beginning in September 2018.
  34. Hamood al-Omari, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  35. Ibrahim Hael al-Yamani, university professor and a former mufti, detained in September 2017.
  36. Muhammad Saleh al-Munajid, scholar and founder of website Islamqa.info, detained in September 2017.
  37. Mousa al-Ghanami, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  38. Muhamad al-Barrak, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  39. Sami Abdulaziz al-Majid, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  40. Fawwaz al-Ghaslan, poet, detained in September 2017, released in May 2019.
  41. Habib bin Ma’laa al-Mutairi, university professor and a member of the National Society for Human Rights, detained in October 2017.
  42. Razin bin Mohammad al-Razin, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  43. Mohammed bin Saud al-Bisher, university professor, detained in October 2017.
  44. Sa’ad bin Matar al-Otaibi, teaching assistant in university, detained in September 2017.
  45. Mubarak bin Zuair, teaching assistant in university, detained in October 2017.
  46. Sheikh Jamal al-Najim, university professor, detained in October 2017, on trial.
  47. Malik al-Ahmed, university professor and media consultant, detained in September 2017.
  48. Saeed bin Farwa, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  49. Sheikh Sami al-Ghayheb, director of the Unit to Combat Extortion Crimes in the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, detained in October 2017.
  50. Salim al-Deeni, undersecretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, detained in September 2017.
  51. Ahmed al-Sowayan, president of the Islamic Press Association, detained in September 2017.
  52. Ali Abu al-Hasan, pedagogue and media figure, detained in September 2017.
  53.  Khalid al-Alkami, writer and journalist, detained in September 2017.
  54. Zayed al-Banawi, retired colonel, detained in October 2017.
  55. Sami al-Thobaiti, journalist, detained in September 2017.
  56. Rabea Hafiz, chanter, detained in September 2017.
  57. Musa’ed bin Hamad al-Kathairi, media figure, detained in September 2017.
  58. Ali al-Jahni, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  59. Yousef al-Mahous, imam, dean of Hatwa College of Science and Human Studies at Majmaah University, detained in September 2017.
  60. Yousef Ahmad al-Qasem, Islamic jurisprudence professor, member of the Higher Judicial Institute at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, detained in September 2017.
  61. Abdullatif al-Hussein, university professor, detained in October 2017.
  62. Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, university professor, detained in September 2017.
  63. Sonhat al-Otaibi, business consultant, detained in September 2017, released temporarily in April 2019.
  64. Munawer al-Noub al-Abdali, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  65. Nayef al-Sahafi, preacher, detained in September 2017.
  66. Mohammad bin Saleh al-Moqbel, sheikh, president of Quran memorization society, detained in September 2017.
  67. Mohammad al-Dosari, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  68. Omar al-Haseen, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  69. Sultan bin Hanas bin Shaddah, detained in September 2017, released.
  70. Bandar al-Tuwaijiri, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  71. Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Abdallatif, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  72. Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, judge, detained in September 2017, released.
  73. Ahmad al-Amira, undersecretary of the Justice Ministry, detained in September 2017.
  74. Yousef al-Faraj, office director of the minister of justice, detained in September 2017.
  75. Owaid bin Hmood al-Atwi, former university professor, Vice President of the Graduate Studies and Scientific Research at Tabuk University, detained in September 2017, released.
  76. Rashed al-Shehri, head of the Supreme Court in Jeddah, detained in September 2017.
  77. Saud bin Ghosn, sheikh, detained in September 2017.
  78. Jamil Farsi, writer, detained in September 2017.
  79. Yousef al-Molhem, online activist, satirist, detained in September 2017.
  80. Fayez bin Damekh, media figure, detained in September 2017.
  81. Saad al-Breik, sheikh, detained in November 2017.
  82. Ruqayya al-Moharib, university professor, detained in September 2017, released in March 2019.
  83. Noora al-Saad, academic, detained in September 2017, released.

2018

  1. Ahmad al-Rashid, lawyer, detained in April 2018.
  2. Abdullah al-Mofleh, novelist, online activist, detained in September 2018.
  3. Sultan al-Jumeiri, author, detained in September 2018.
  4. Ahmad Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, brother of the activist Omar Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, detained in August 2018.
  5. Abdulmajid Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, brother of activist Omar Abdulaziz al-Zahrani, detained in August 2018.
  6. Safar al-Hawali, prominent Islamic scholar, detained in July 2018.
  7. Abdulrahman al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  8. Abdullah al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  9. Ibrahim al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018, released in February 2019.
  10. Abdulrahim al-Hawali, son of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  11. Saadallah al-Hawali, brother of Safar al-Hawali, detained in July 2018.
  12. Ahmad bin Ali al-Hawali, a relative of Safar al-Hawali, detained in August 2018.
  13. Abdullah bin Ali al-Hawali, a relative of Safar al-Hawali, detained in September 2018.
  14. Ismail Hassan, secretary of Safar al-Hawali, August 2018.
  15. Ahmad al-Amari, sheikh, former dean of the Quran Faculty in the Islamic University of Medina, detained in September 2018 and died in custody in January 2019.
  16. Saleh Al Taleb, sheikh, imam at the Grand Mosque, detained in August 2018.
  17. Ali bin Abbar al-Za’al, poet, tribal Sheikh, detained in May 2018, released in February 2019.
  18. Nasser al-Omar, sheikh, former university professor, detained in August 2018.
  19. Yasser Abdullah al-Ayyaf, activist, detained summer 2018.
  20. Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, preacher, professor at the Higher Judicial Institute at the Imam Mohammed bin Saud university, detained in July 2018.
  21. Muhammad al-Duhas al-Otaibi, preacher, teacher at the Institute of the Holy Mosque of Mecca, detained in July 2018, released in July 2019.
  22. Ali bin Saeed al-Ghaamdi, preacher, detained in July 2018, released in February 2019 due to deteriorating health conditions.
  23. Mohammed al-Bajadi, founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained in May 2018.
  24. Mamdouh al-Harbi, preacher, detained in August 2018, released in January 2019.
  25. Turki al-Jaser, journalist, detained in March 2018.
  26. Ayda al-Ghamidi, mother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  27. Adel al-Ghamidi, brother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  28. Sultan al-Ghamidi, brother of the activist Abdullah al-Ghamidi who lives in exile, detained in March 2018.
  29. Ahmed Bathaf, university professor, detained in May 2018.
  30. Salah al-Shehi, journalist, detained in January 2018, sentenced to five years in prison.
  31. Turki al-Dosari, media figure, detained in April 2018.
  32. Bader bin Ali al-Otaibi, sheikh, detained in April 2018, released in January 2019.
  33. Abdul Aziz al-Mehdi, comedian, detained in June 2018, released in January 2019.
  34. Nawwaf Talal al-Rasheed, poet, dual Qatari and Saudi citizen, detained in May 2018, released in April 2019.
  35. Omar al-Saeed, member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained again in June 2018.
  36. Hussein Abu al-Rahha, artist, detained in November 2018.
  37. Khaled bin Suleiman al-Omair, political activist, detained in July 2018.
  38. Marwan al-Mreesi, Yemeni journalist, detained in June 2018.
  39. Ali al-Shammari, poet, detained in June 2018.
  40. Abdulrahman al-Sahdan, employee at the Saudi Red Crescent, detained in March 2018.
  41. Abdulrahman Mohammad al-Arifi, son of Islamic scholar Mohammad al-Arifi, detained in December 2018.
  42. Sheikh Bandar Baleelah, imam at the Grand Mosque, detained and released in September 2018.
  43. Noha al-Balawi, online activist, detained in January 2018, on trial.

2019

  1. Abdullatif Hussein al-Nasser, sheikh, detained in June 2019.
  2. Faisal bin Sultan bin Jahjaah bin Hameed, tribal Sheikh, detained in October 2019.
  3. Abdulaziz al-Awda, activist and a relative of Salman al-Awda, detained in October 2019.
  4. Abdulrahman al-Mahmoud, sheikh and former member of the teaching committee at Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, detained in October 2019.
  5. Omar al-Moqbal, sheikh, detained in October 2019.

November 2017 “Corruption” Arrests

On the evening of November 4, 2017 the Saudi Press Agency announced a royal decree establishing a high-level anticorruption committee headed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.[118] Later in the evening, the Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya began reporting that Saudi authorities were conducting mass detentions of prominent individuals allegedly involved in corruption.[119]

Those detained included Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential businessman and chairman of Kingdom Holding Company. In addition to Alwaleed bin Talal, the detainees included a former national guard minister, Prince Mutib bin Abdullah; a former finance minister, Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former planning minister, Adel Fakih; a former Riyadh governor, Prince Turki bin Abdullah; a former royal court chief, Khalid al-Tuwaijri, Bakr Binladin, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group; and Alwaleed al-Ibrahim, owner of the MBC television network.

Following the arrests, three government officials told Reuters that the detainees included 11 princes, four ministers, dozens of former ministers, and several influential businessmen and media executives. The same report indicated that authorities were holding the detainees at the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.[120]

While in detention at the Ritz-Carlton, authorities pressured detainees to hand over assets to the state in exchange for their release outside of any recognizable legal process, and many reportedly made deals.[121] In March 2018, the New York Times reported that Saudi authorities used physical abuse to coerce detainees to hand over assets, stating that at least 17 detainees required hospitalization following this abuse.[122]

On January 31, the Saudi Press Agency released a statement by the royal court saying that the anti-corruption committee, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, had “concluded its tasks” after summoning 381 people to give evidence.[123] The statement said that those not indicted on corruption charges had been released, while 87 had agreed to settlements and 56 had been refused settlements and remained in custody “to continue the investigations process.” The statement said that the authorities had referred eight others to the public prosecutor after they refused to settle. The statement concluded that “more than SR400 billion (US$107 billion) was retrieved to the state treasury in the form of real estate, companies, cash, and other assets.”[124] The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh resumed normal business operations in early February 2018.[125]

An informed source close to six of the detainees held in the Ritz-Carlton told Human Rights Watch that even though most of the detainees reached settlements and were released, they remain tightly monitored by authorities, even those who returned to their previous positions or portions of their companies or financial assets. He said that in some cases authorities have forced former detainees to involuntarily return to their former companies or positions or compel them to accept new roles.[126]

Detainee List

  1. Adel Fakih, former minister of economy and planning, detained in November 2017.
  2. Waleed al-Ibrahim, chairman of MBC group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  3. Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of al-Dabbagh Group and former head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  4. Bakr Binladin, chairman of Binladin Group, detained in November 2017.
  5. Saad Binladin, Binladin Group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  6. Saleh Binladin, Binladin Group, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  7. Fawaz Alhokair, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  8. Hani Khoja, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  9. Ibrahim al-Assaf, minister, detained and released in November 2017.
  10. Mohammed al-Jasser, former Minister of Economy and Planning, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  11. Sultan al-Dweish, executive director of Future Investment, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  12. Ibrahim al-Muaqel, headed the Human Resources Development Fund, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  13. Abdulrahman Fakih, businessman, detained in November 2017.
  14. Hamed al-Dweili`, former deputy minister, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  15. Khalid al-Baltan, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  16. Rami al-Nuaimi, son of former minister, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  17. Khalid Abdullah al-Molhem, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  18. Khalid al-Tuwaijri, former head of the Saudi Royal Court, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  19. Loay Nazer, son of former Planning Minister Hisham Nazer, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  20. Major General Ali al-Qahtani, Saudi military officer and associate of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, detained in November 2017, died in custody.
  21. Mansour al-Balawi, former chairman of al-Ettihad sports club, detained in November 2017.
  22. Mohammad Hussein al-Amoudi, Saudi-Ethiopian businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  23. Mohammed al-Tobaishi, former head of protocol of the Royal Court, detained and released in November 2017.
  24. Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel, detained in November 2017.
  25. Osama al-Bar, former mayor of Mecca province, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  26. Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, detained in January 2018.
  27. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad Al Saud, detained in January 2018.
  28. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, businessman and member of the Saudi royal court, detained in November 2017, released in January 2018.
  29. Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahad, former minister, detained in November 2017, released in 2018.
  30. Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammad Al Saud, former deputy defense minister, former commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and member of House of Saud, detained in November 2017.
  31. Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, son of late King Abdullah, former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  32. Prince Khalid bin Talal, businessman, brother of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, detained in November 2017, released in November 2018.
  33. Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, son of King Abdullah and former governor of Mecca province, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  34. Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah al-Saud, son of the late King Abdullah and former minister of the Saudi National Guard, detained and released in November 2017.
  35. Prince Turki bin Abdullah, son of the late King Abdullah, former governor of Riyadh province, detained in November 2017.
  36. Faisal al-Jarba, associate of Prince Turki bin Abdullah, detained in November 2018.
  37. Prince Turki bin Nasser, former military official, detained in November 2017,released in January 2018.
  38. Saleh Kamal, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in December 2017.
  39. Sami al-Zuhaibi, consultant, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  40. Sami Baroum, businessman, detained in November 2017, released in January 2019.
  41. Saud al-Daweesh, former CEO of Saudi Telecom company, detained in November 2017,released in December 2017.
  42. Walid al-Fitaihi, doctor and public figure, detained in November 2017, released in August 2019, on trial.
  43. Zuhair Fayez, businessman, detained in November 2017.
  44. Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammad al-Sultan, Commander of the Royal Saudi Navy, detained in November 2017.

Detention of Women’s Rights Advocates

In May 2018, just weeks before Saudi authorities lifted the ban on women driving on June 24, Saudi authorities opened a large-scale coordinated crackdown against the country’s women’s rights movement. Authorities initially arrested at least 13 prominent women’s rights activists and accused several of them of grave crimes that appear to be directly related to their activism. Government-aligned media outlets carried out an alarming campaign against them, branding them “traitors.”[127]

In November 2018, Human Rights Watch obtained credible evidence that Saudi authorities tortured at least four of the detained women activists while holding them at an unofficial detention facility called a “hotel” or “officer’s guesthouse,” presumably in Jeddah, between May and August. The torture included electric shocks, whippings, and sexual harassment and assault including touching and groping.[128]

On March 1, 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that the detained women’s rights advocates would face charges.[129] A Public Prosecution statement described the detainees as undertaking “coordinated and organized activities … that aim to undermine the Kingdom’s security, stability, and national unity.”[130] A Public Prosecution spokesperson also told local media on March 1 that the Saudi Human Rights Commission and National Society for Human Rights had investigated the torture claims and found no evidence to support  them.[131]

On March 13, Saudi Arabia opened individual trials of 10 women before the Riyadh Criminal Court, and the women learned their charges for the first time. The women on trial included nine women activists including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shaden al-Onaizi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani, Maysa al-Manea, as well as Roqaya al-Muhareb, an Islamist detainee originally arrested during a separate crackdown in September 2017.[132]

Informed sources who reviewed the prosecutor’s written charge sheets have described to Human Rights Watch the content of charges for three of the detainees, nearly all of which are related to peaceful human rights work, including promoting women’s rights and calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system. The sources said that charges against the other women are similar. Prosecutors also accused the women of sharing information about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia with journalists based in Saudi Arabia, diplomats, and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, deeming such contacts a criminal offense.[133]

On March 28, 2019, authorities allowed the “temporary release” of Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, and Roqaya al-Muhareb.[134] On May 3, Hatoon al-Fassi, Shaden al-Onaizi, Amal al-Harbi, Abeer Namankani, and Maysa al-Manea were also “temporarily released.”[135] Loujain al-Hathloul and Mayaa al-Zahrani remain in detention for unknown reasons.

Three other prominent women’s rights activists, Samar Badawi, Nour Abdulaziz, and Nassema al-Sadah, were finally brought to trial in Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court on June 27, but the charges against them have not been made public.[136]

The May 2018 arrests also included men connected to the women’s rights movement, including lawyer Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, activist Mohammad al-Rabea, and businessman Abdulaziz al-Mashal. Al-Modaimeegh and al-Mashal were released in December and January respectively, but al-Rabea remains in detention apparently without charge.[137]

Detainee List

  1. Nouf Abdelaziz, writer and women’s rights activist, detained on June 6, 2018, on trial.
  2. Mayaa al-Zahrani, women’s rights activist, detained on June 10, 2018.
  3. Hatoon al-Fassi, women’s rights activist, contributor to al-Riyadh newspaper, associate professor at King Saud University, detained on June 21, 2018, released in May 2019.
  4. Loujain al-Hathloul, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, on trial.
  5. Eman al-Nafjan, women’s rights activist, blogger, detained on May 24, 2018, released on March 28, 2019.
  6. Aziza al-Yousef, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released on March 28, 2019.
  7. Amal al-Harbi, wife of activist Fawzan al-Harbi a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, detained in July 2018, released in May 2019.
  8. Nassima al-Sadah, human rights activist, detained in late July 2018, on trial.
  9. Samar Badawi, human rights activist, detained in late July 2018, on trial.
  10. Shadan al-Onezi women’s rights activist, detained in May 2018, released in May 2019.
  11. Abeer Abdullah Al Namankany, women’s rights activist, detained in November 2018, released in May 2019.
  12. Maysa al-Manea, women’s rights activist, detained in May 2018, released in May 2019.
  13. Madeeha al-Ajroush, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  14. Hessa al-Sheikh, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  15. Aisha al-Manea, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  16. Walaa al-Shubbar, women’s rights activist, detained and released in May 2018.
  17. Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, lawyer and human rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released in December 2018.
  18. Mohammad al-Rabea, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018.
  19. Abdulaziz al-Meshaal, philanthropist, women’s rights activist, detained on May 15, 2018, released in January 2019.

April 2019 Arrests

Around April 4, 2019, despite continuing international criticism stemming from the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Arabia carried out a new round of arrests, this time targeting 13 writers and activists. Saudi human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that they did not know the specific basis of the arrests but said that all of those detained had connections to the Saudi women’s rights movement.[138]

One of those detained on April 4, Salah al-Haidar, is a US-Saudi dual citizen and the son of prominent women’s rights activist, Aziza al-Yousef. In addition to al-Haidar, those detained included Bader al-Ibrahim, a writer and medical doctor who is also a US-Saudi dual citizen; and Mohammad al-Sadiq, Abdullah al-Dehailan, Naif al-Hendas, Ayman al-Drees, Redha al-Bori, and Moqbel al-Saqqar, and Thumar al-Marzouqi and his wife, Khadijah al-Harbi, all of whom are writers. The others are Abdullah al-Shehri a lawyer, his wife Sheikha al-Urf, a physician, and Fahad Abalkhail, an independent activist. Al-Harbi was pregnant at the time of her arrest.[139]

In March, Saudi authorities detained Anas al-Mazrou, a lecturer at King Saud University, after he raised the issue of the detained Saudi women’s rights activists during a panel discussion at the Riyadh Book Fair in February.[140]

Detainee List

  1.  Salah al-Haidar, writer and activist, detained in April 2019.

2. Bader al-Ibrahim, writer and medical doctor, detained in April 2019.

3. Mohammad al-Sadiq, writer, detained in April 2019.

4. Adullah al-Dehailan, writer, detained in April 2019.

5.  Naif al-Hendas, writer, detained in April 2019.

6. Ayman al-Drees, writer, detained in April 2019.

7. Redha al-Bori, writer, detained in April 2019.

8. Moqbel al-Saqqar, writer, detained in April 2019.

9. Thumar al-Marzouqi, writer, detained in April 2019.

10. Khadijah al-Harbi, writer, detained in April 2019.

11. Abdullah al-Shehri, lawyer, detained in April 2019.

12. Sheikha al-Urf, physician, detained in April 2019

13. Fahad Abalkhail, activist, detained in April 2019.

14. Anas al-Mazrou, lecturer at King Saud University, detained in March 2019.

Acknowledgements

This report was researched and written by Adam Coogle, senior researcher with the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, with extensive research support from a research assistant in the Middle East and North Africa division and Aaron Burroughs, intern with the Middle East and North Africa division.

The report was reviewed by a Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director; Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher; Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director. Diana Naoum, coordinator in the Middle East and North Africa division, provided editorial and production assistance. Senior coordinator, Jose Martinez, and administrative manager, Fitzroy Hepkins, prepared the report for publication.

 

 

[1] Steffen Hertog, Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats: Oil and the State in Saudi Arabia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010); Nabil Mouline, The Clerics of Islam: Religious Authority and Political Power in Saudi Arabia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).

[2] “Saudi Arabia: A Move to Curb Religious Police Abuses,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 18, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/18/saudi-arabia-move-curb-religious-pol... “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arrested.

[3] “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[4] Adam Coogle, “Essam Koshak Case Will Test Saudi Arabia’s ‘Reformed’ Prosecution Service,” commentary, Human Rights Watch, July 18, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/18/essam-koshak-case-will-test-saudi-ar... “Saudi Arabia creates new security authority,” Saudi Gazette, July 20, 2017, http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/513421 (accessed September 16, 2019).

[5] Katie Paul, “Saudi prince, relieved from National Guard, once seen as throne contender,” Reuters, November 4, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-government-defence-newsmaker/sa... (accessed September 17, 2019).

[6] Stephanie Flanders, Vivian Nereim, Donna Abu-Nasr, Nayla Razzouk, Alaa Shahine, and Riad Hamade, “Saudi Crown Prince Discusses Trump, Aramco, Arrests: Transcript,” Bloomberg, October 5, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-05/saudi-crown-prince-di... (accessed September 16, 2019).

[7] Karen Elliott House, “The Making of Saudi Arabia’s Energetic, Ruthless Crown Prince,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-making-of-saudi-arabias-energetic-ruthl... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman named defense minister,” Al Arabiya, January 23, 2015, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/01/23/Saudi-Princ... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[10] Justin Vela, “Saudi Arabia’s King Salman changes line of succession,” The National, April 25, 2015, https://www.thenational.ae/world/saudi-arabia-s-king-salman-changes-line... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[11] Abdallah al-Barqawi, “By Order of the King, Ending the Service of the Director of Public Security, Changing the Name of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution, and Dismissals and Appointments,” SABQ, https://sabq.org/%D8%A8%D8%A3%D9%85%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%84%D9%83... (accessed October 30, 2019). 

[12] Royal Decree 240 available here: https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=ar&newsid=1640804 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[13] Human Rights Watch, Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia, December 17, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/12/17/challenging-red-lines/stories-righ....

[14] “Saudi Arabia: Leadership Change Should Prioritize Improving Rights,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/22/saudi-arabia-leadership-change-shoul....

[15] Naser Al Wasmi, “Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council gives Prince Mohammed bin Salman vote of confidence,” The National, June 21, 2017, https://www.thenational.ae/world/saudi-arabia-s-allegiance-council-gives... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[16] Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Mazzetti, “Deposed Saudi Prince Is Said to Be Confined to Palace,” New York Times, June 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/world/middleeast/deposed-saudi-prince... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of Ex-Crown Prince,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/27/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-ex-crown....

[17] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul, “Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed,” Reuters, November 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/future-saudi-king-tight... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[20] “Saudi Arabia forms new apparatus of state security,” Arab News, July 21, 2017, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1132466/saudi-arabia (accessed August 30, 2019).

[21] “PROFILE: New Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef,” Al Arabiya, June 21, 2017, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2017/06/21/PROFILE-The-new-Sau... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[22] Katie Paul, “Saudi prince, relieved from National Guard, once seen as throne contender,” Reuters, November 4, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-government-defence-newsmaker/sa... (accessed September 17, 2019).

[23] Kenneth Rogoff, “What’s behind the drop in oil prices?” World Economic Forum, March 2, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/what-s-behind-the-drop-in-oil-pri... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[24] Martin Dokoupil, “Saudi could see budget deficit next year, risks draining reserves -IMF,” Reuters, September 24, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/imf-saudi-budget/saudi-could-see-budget-... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[25] “Saudi plans spending cuts, revenue push to shrink 2016 budget deficit,” Reuters, December 28, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/saudi-budget/saudi-plans-spending-cuts-r... (accessed August 28,2019).

[26] The World Bank, “Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) – Saudi Arabia,” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.ZS?locations=SA (accessed August 28, 2019); Ismaeel Naar, “Saudi Arabia launches committee to tackle unemployment,” Al Arabiya, October 15, 2015, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/economy/2015/10/15/Saudi-Arabi... (accessed August 28, 2019).

[27] Luay Al-Khatteeb, “Saudi Arabia’s economic time bomb,” The Brookings Institution, December 30, 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/saudi-arabias-economic-time-bomb/ (accessed August 28, 2019).

[28] “Transcript: Interview with Muhammad bin Salman,” The Economist, January 6, 2016, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2016/01/06/transcript-i... (accessed August 29, 2019).

[29] Vision 2030, available at: https://vision2030.gov.sa/en (accessed August 29, 2019).

[30] Ibid.

[31] Michelle Cioffoletti, “The Restructuring of Saudi Arts and Entertainment,” The Arab Gulf States Institute, August 8, 2019, https://agsiw.org/the-restructuring-of-saudi-arts-and-entertainment/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[32] Nick Vivarelli, “Saudi Arabia Says It Will Invest $35 Billion in Movie Theaters by 2020,” Variety, April 4, 2019, https://variety.com/2019/film/news/saudi-arabia-movie-theaters-invest-35... (accessed August 30 2019).

[33] Michelle Cioffoletti, “The Restructuring of Saudi Arts and Entertainment,” The Arab Gulf States Institute, August 8, 2019, https://agsiw.org/the-restructuring-of-saudi-arts-and-entertainment/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[34] “Saudi Arabia's religious authority says cinemas, song concerts harmful,” Reuters, January 17, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-saudi-entertainment-idUSKBN1511LL (accessed May 30, 2019); Bethan McKernan, “Saudi Arabia's entertainment chief fired after conservative backlash over Russian circus ‘nudity',” The Independent, June 19, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-russia... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Nicki Minaj pulls out of Saudi Arabia concert after backlash,” The Guardian, July 9, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/09/nicki-minaj-pulls-out-of-s... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[35] Hadeel Al Sayegh, Davide Barbuscia, and Saeed Azhar, “Saudi Aramco aims to begin planned IPO on November 3: sources,” Reuters, October 29, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-aramco-ipo/saudi-aramco-aims-to... (accessed October 31, 2019).

[36] Dominic Dudley, “International Investors Are Pulling Out Of The Saudi Stock Market In The Wake Of Khashoggi Murder,” Forbes, November 30, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/11/30/investors-shun-sau... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[37] Andrew England and Ahmed Al Omran, “Saudi Arabia attracts financiers again as Khashoggi outrage fades,” Financial Times, April 24, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/615e2ff6-6678-11e9-9adc-98bf1d35a056 (accessed August 30, 2019); Michael J. de la Merced, Stanley Reed, and Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Business Quietly Returns to Saudi Arabia After Khashoggi’s Murder,” New York Times, April 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/business/saudi-arabia-business.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[38] “General: royal decree on releasing royal court advisor Saud al-Qahtani from his position,” Saudi Press Agency, October 19, 2018, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=ar&newsid=1830333 (accessed August 31, 2019).

[39] Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard, “It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent,” New York Times, March 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/17/world/middleeast/khashoggi-crown-prin... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[40] Ibid,

[41] Tweet by Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 17, 2017, https://www.arab48.com/%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A7/%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%AF... (accessed October 30, 2019).

[42] “Full text: Saudi Arabia's public prosecution briefing on the Jamal Khashoggi murder investigation,” Arab News, November 15, 2018, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1405526 (accessed August 31, 2019); Dion Nissenbaum, Warren P. Strobel, and Summer Said, “U.S. Seeks Accountability for Former Saudi Aide in Khashoggi Killing,” Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-accountability-for-former-saudi-a... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[43] Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “A Conversation with HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom,” October 14, 2019, https://www.rusi.org/event/conversation-hrh-prince-khalid-bin-bandar-al-... (accessed October 23, 2019); “A Conversation with HRH Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud,” October 15, 2019, video clip, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=945&v=QbUaaspPKww (accessed October 23, 2019).

[44] “Saudi Arabia: Thousands Held Arbitrarily,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/06/saudi-arabia-thousands-held-arbitrarily.

[45] Saudi Criminal Procedure Law, art. 114, available at: https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/ar/sa/sa045ar.pdf (accessed October 30, 2019).

[46] “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of ‘Corruption’ Detainees,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-corrupti....

[47] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, February 8, 2019.

[48] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, January 24, 2019.

[49] Karim Faheem and Loveday Morris, “Saudi campaign to abduct and silence rivals abroad goes back decades,” Washington Post, November 4, 2018, https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/saudi-campaign-to-abduct-and-silen... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with family member of Walid al-Fitaihi, March 13, 2019.

[51] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen,” New York Times, March 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-torture... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[52] Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Arabia Frees Doctor With U.S. Citizenship After 21 Months,” New York Times, August 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/01/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-doctor-... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[53] “Saudi court postpones hearing of prominent preacher Awdah: son,” Reuters, July 28, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/saudi-court-postpones-h... (accessed August 31, 2019); Human Rights Watch interview with al-Awda family member, October 2019.

[54] “Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Activists Charged,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/01/saudi-arabia-womens-rights-activists....

[55] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, August 2019.

[56] United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, “Fact Sheet No. 26, The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet26en.pdf (accessed August 31, 2019).

[57] Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Body of Principles), adopted December 9, 1988, G.A. Res. 43/173, annex, 43 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 298, U.N. Doc. A/43/49 (1988).

[58] League of Arab States, Arab Charter for Human Rights, adopted May 22, 2004, reprinted in 12 Int'l Hum. Rts. Rep. 893 (2005), entered into force March 15, 2008, art 14.

[59] “Saudi Arabia: Corruption Arrests Raise Due Process Concerns,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/08/saudi-arabia-corruption-arrests-rais....

[60] “Saudi hotel to reopen after being used as prison in corruption purge,” Reuters, January 15, 2018, https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1F41MF (accessed August 31, 2019).

[61] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w....

[62] Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard, “It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent,” New York Times, March 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/17/world/middleeast/khashoggi-crown-prin... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[63] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 20, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 30, para 11.

[64] “Saudi Arabia: Clarify Status of ‘Corruption’ Detainees,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 18, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/saudi-arabia-clarify-status-corrupti....

[65] Simeon Kerr, “Top Saudi broadcaster caught up in Riyadh’s corruption shakedown,” January 27, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/a50075d2-0069-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[66] Stephen Kalin, “Exclusive: Saudi Arabia curbs family influence in Binladin group shake-up,” March 18, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-binladin-exclusive/exclusive-sa... (accessed August 30, 2019); Katie Paul, Tom Arnold, Marwa Rashad, and Stephen Kalin, “As a Saudi prince rose, the Bin Laden business empire crumbled,” September 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/saudi-binladin-fall/ (accessed August 30, 2019).

[67] Sarah Dadouch and Katie Paul, “Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed released as corruption probe winds down,” Reuters, January 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests-princealwaleed/saudi-bi... (accessed August 30, 2019); Kate Kelly, “Freed From a Gilded Cage, a Famed Saudi Investor Returns to the Markets,” New York Times, August 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/business/saudi-investor-alwaleed.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[68] Summer Said, Rory Jones, and Justin Scheck, “Saudis Release Consultant, Billionaire Imprisoned in Crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudis-release-ex-mckinsey-consultant-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019); Nizar Manek and Vivian Nereim, “One of the Mideast's Richest Men Is Among Freed Saudi Detainees,” Bloomberg, January 27, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-27/saudi-ethiopian-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[69] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[70] Sarah El Sirgany and Tamara Qiblawi, “Jailed Saudi activist rejects deal to deny torture for release, says family,” CNN, August 14, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/14/middleeast/saudi-hathloul-torture-int... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with informed source, August 16, 2019.

[72] “Saudi Arabia: Cleric Held 4 Months Without Charge,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/07/saudi-arabia-cleric-held-4-months-wi....

[73] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with family member of Walid al-Fitaihi, March 13, 2019.

[74] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Saudi human rights activists, October 2019.

[77] Saudi Travel Documents Law, art. 6, available at: https://laws.boe.gov.sa/BoeLaws/Laws/LawDetails/e29f08fa-d53e-4944-b22b-... “Saudi Arabia: Lift Travel Ban on Government Critics,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 13, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/02/13/saudi-arabia-lift-travel-ban-governm....

[78] UN Commission on Human Rights, The right of everyone to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country, 11 March 1985, E/CN.4/RES/1985/22, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f06e4f.html (accessed August 31, 2019).

[79] Documentation of Saudi execution announcements, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch and Justice Project Pakistan, “Caught in a Web”: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System, March 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/03/07/caught-web/treatment-pakistanis-sa....

[80] “Details of Charges Facing Salman al-Awda,” Erem News, September 4, 2018, https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/saudi-arabia/1481280 (accessed August 31, 2019); Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[81] “Political: The Kingdom, Egypt, the Emirates, and Bahrain Announce the Addition of Two Entities and Eleven Individuals to their Prohibited Terrorism List,” Saudi Press Agency, November 23, 2017, https://www.spa.gov.sa/1690714 (accessed August 31, 2019).

[82] “Details of Charges Facing Salman al-Awda,” Erem News, September 4, 2018, https://www.eremnews.com/news/arab-world/saudi-arabia/1481280 (accessed August 31, 2019); Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Charge sheet on file with Human Rights Watch.

[85] “Saudi Arabia: Religious Thinker on Trial for His Life,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 23, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/23/saudi-arabia-religious-thinker-trial....

[86] Ibid,

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Adam Senft, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert, “The Kingdom Came to Canada: How Saudi-Linked Digital Espionage Reached Canadian Soil,” Citizen Lab, October 1, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-kingdom-came-to-canada-how-saudi-linke... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[90] Ibid.

[91] “Amnesty International Among Targets of NSO-powered Campaign,” Amnesty International, October 1, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2018/08/amnesty-international... (accessed October 18, 2019); Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins, “Saudi Arabia accused of hacking London-based dissident,” The Guardian, May 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/28/saudi-arabia-accused-of-ha... (accessed October 18, 2019); Thomas Brewster, “Exclusive: Saudi Dissidents Hit With Stealth iPhone Spyware Before Khashoggi's Murder,” Forbes, November 21, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2018/11/21/exclusive-saudi-d... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[92] David Ignatius, “How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership,” Washington Post, March 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-the-mysterie... (accessed October 18, 2019).

[93] NSO Group, “Human Rights Policy,” https://www.nsogroup.com/governance/human-rights-policy/ (accessed October 18, 2019).

[94] Tweet from Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 17, 2017, https://twitter.com/bellingcat/status/1144263147416670209/photo/1 (accessed October 30, 2019).

[95] Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, “About,” https://safcsp.org.sa/en.html (accessed February 7, 2019).

[96] Tweet from Saud al-Qahtani (@saudq1978) on Twitter social media platform, August 18, 2017, http://www.alhayat.com/article/881627/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%...(accessed October 30, 2019).

[97] Manal al-Sharif, “I’m a Saudi activist. Twitter put my life in danger.” Washington Post, November 9, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/11/09/im-a-s... (accessed February 7, 2019).

[98] Nick Hopkins, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, and Kareem Shaheen, “Leaked reports reveal severe abuse of Saudi political prisoners,” Guardian, March 31, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/31/leaked-reports-reveal-abus... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[99] Ibid

[100] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w... Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Saudi Arabia Accused of Torturing Women’s-Rights Activists in Widening Crackdown on Dissent,” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-accused-of-torturing-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019); “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[101] Alia al-Hathloul, “My Sister Is in a Saudi Prison. Will Mike Pompeo Stay Silent?” New York Times, January 13, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/opinion/saudi-women-rights-activist-prison-pompeo.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

[102] “ALQST Confirms New Details of Torture of Saudi Women Activists as British MPs Seek Access to Prisons to Investigate,” ALQST, January 3, 2019, https://alqst.org/eng/confirms-new-details-of-torture-of-saudi-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019)

[103] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-women-activists; “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[104] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w....

[105] Human Rights Watch communications with informed sources, January and February 2019.

[106] Vivian Nereim, “Saudis to Probe Allegations That Women Activists Torture,” Bloomberg, January 13, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-13/saudis-said-to-probe-... (accessed February 15, 2019); Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Jailed Women’s Rights Activists Tell Saudi Investigators of Torture,” Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/jailed-womens-rights-activists-tell-saudi-i... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[107] “Saudi Persecution Denies Activist Subjected to Torture,” Al Arabiya, March 2, 2019, https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/saudi-today/2019/03/02/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D... (accessed April 4, 2019).

[108] Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, and Mark Mazzetti, “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,” New York Times, March 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-corrupt... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[109] Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Behind Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Rise, Two Loyal Enforcers,” New York Times, November 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-crown-p... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[110] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Is Said to Have Tortured an American Citizen,” New York Times, March 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/02/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-torture... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[111] Summer Said, Justin Scheck, and Bradley Hope, “Former McKinsey Executive Imprisoned by Saudis,” Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-mckinsey-executive-imprisoned-by-sau... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[112] Summer Said, Rory Jones, and Justin Scheck, “Saudis Release Consultant, Billionaire Imprisoned in Crackdown,” The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudis-release-ex-mckinsey-consultant-billi... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[113] “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Right Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arres... “Saudi economist who criticized Aramco IPO charged with terrorism: activists,” Reuters, October 1, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/saudi-economist-who-cri... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[114] “Saudi Arabia: Prominent Clerics Arrested,” Human Right Watch news release, September 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/15/saudi-arabia-prominent-clerics-arrested.

[115] “State Security Presidency monitors intelligence activities by group of persons for benefit of foreign parties against security of Kingdom,” Saudi Press Agency, September 12, 2017, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1665140#1665140 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[116] “Saudi clerics detained in apparent bid to silence dissent,” Reuters, September 10, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-security-arrests/saudi-clerics-... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[117] “Saudi Arabia: Cleric Held 4 Months Without Charge,” Human Rights Watch news release, January 7, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/07/saudi-arabia-cleric-held-4-months-wi....

[119] “Princes and former ministers detained in Saudi Arabia corruption probe,” Al Arabiya, November 5, 2017, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/11/05/Princes-and-former... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[120] Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul, “Future Saudi king tightens grip on power with arrests including Prince Alwaleed,” Reuters, November 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/future-saudi-king-tight... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[121] Sarah Dadouch and Katie Paul, “Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed released as corruption probe winds down,” Reuters, January 27, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests-princealwaleed/saudi-bi... (accessed August 30, 2019); Kate Kelly, “Freed From a Gilded Cage, a Famed Saudi Investor Returns to the Markets,” New York Times, August 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/business/saudi-investor-alwaleed.html (accessed August 30, 2019).

[122] Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, and Mark Mazzetti, “Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,” New York Times, March 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-corrupt... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[123] “Statement by the Royal Court: Anti Corruption Committee Concludes Its Tasks,” Saudi Press Agency, January 30, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1880379 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[124] Ibid.

[125] Angela Dewan, Schams Elwazer and Tamara Qiblawi, “Saudi Ritz-Carlton reopens after stint as lavish prison,” CNN, February 11, 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/11/middleeast/saudi-ritz-carlton-reopens... (accessed August 31, 2019).

[126] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with informed source, October 29, 2019.

[127] “Saudi Arabia: Growing Crackdown on Women’s Rights Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 23, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/23/saudi-arabia-growing-crackdown-women....

[128] “Saudi Arabia: Allow Access to Detained Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 6, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/06/saudi-arabia-allow-access-detained-w... Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, “Saudi Arabia Accused of Torturing Women’s-Rights Activists in Widening Crackdown on Dissent,” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-arabia-accused-of-torturing-women-act... (accessed February 15, 2019); “Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activists' torture,” Reuters, December 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-khashoggi-aide/deposed-aide-to-... (accessed February 15, 2019).

[129] “Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Activists Charged,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/01/saudi-arabia-womens-rights-activists....

[130] “The Public Prosecution Issues Statement, regarding Arrest of Individuals, by State Security,” Saudi Press Agency, March 1, 2019, https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=1894009 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[131] “Saudi Public Prosecution Denies Women Detainee Subjected to Torture,” Al Arabiya, March 2, 2019, https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/saudi-today/2019/03/02/النيابة-السعودية-تنفي-تعرض-موقوفة-للتعذيب (accessed August 30, 2019).

[132] “Saudi Arabia: Abusive Charges Against Women Activists,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 21, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/21/saudi-arabia-abusive-charges-against....

[133] Ibid.

[134] Karim Faheem, “Saudi Arabia temporarily releases 3 women arrested in crackdown on activists,” Washington Post, March 28, 2019, https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/saudi-arabia-temporari... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[135] “Saudi Arabia temporarily frees four women activists,” BBC, May 3, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48142640 (accessed August 30, 2019).

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Saudi individual, July 2019.

[137] Vivian Nereim, “Saudi Lawyer Who Defended Activists Is Freed, Sources Say,” Bloomberg, December 24, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-24/saudi-lawyer-who-defe... (accessed August 30, 2019); Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, January 2019.

[138] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, April 2019.

[139] Human Rights Watch interviews with Saudi human rights activists, April 2019.

[140] “Saudi Arabia: New wave of arrests and travel bans latest assault on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International, April 5, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-new-wave-of-... (accessed August 30, 2019); “Professor Anas al-Mazrou at King Saud University defends the rights of women activists detained at a book fair,”, March 28, 2019, video clip, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV3bbNq7Ma4 (accessed August 30, 2019).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Saudi Arabia: Change Comes with Punishing Cost

Arrests, Torture, Murder Accompany Reforms

(Washington, DC) – Important social reforms enacted under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been accompanied by deepening repression and abusive practices meant to silence dissidents and critics, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 62-page report, “‘The High Cost of Change’: Repression Under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reforms,” documents ongoing arbitrary and abusive practices by Saudi authorities targeting dissidents and activists since mid-2017 and total lack of accountability for those responsible for abuses. Human Rights Watch found that despite landmark reforms for Saudi women and youth, ongoing abuses demonstrate that the rule of law in Saudi Arabia remains weak and can be undermined at will by the country’s political leadership. 

“Mohammed bin Salman has created an entertainment sector and allowed women to travel and drive, but Saudi authorities have also locked away many of the country’s leading reformist thinkers and activists on his watch, some of whom called for these very changes,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A truly reforming Saudi Arabia would not subject its leading activists to harassment, detention, and mistreatment.”

The report is based on interviews with Saudi activists and dissidents since 2017, government statements, and court documents, as well as exhaustive reviews of Saudi local media outlets and social media.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed his son, Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince, making him next in line to the Saudi throne and the country’s day-to-day ruler. His elevation coincided with positive changes, fostering a positive image for the crown prince on the international political scene.

Behind the glamor and pomp and the advancements for Saudi women and youth, however, lay a darker reality, as the Saudi authorities moved to sideline anyone who could stand in the way of Mohammed bin Salman’s political ascension. In the summer of 2017, around the time of his promotion to crown prince, authorities quietly reorganized the country’s prosecution service and security apparatus, the primary tools of Saudi repression, and placed them directly under the royal court’s oversight.

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Ahmed al-Assiri implicated in Khashoggi killing, reportedly on trial
 
 

The authorities then began a series of arrest campaigns. They targeted prominent clerics, public intellectuals, academics, and human rights activists in September 2017, leading businesspeople and royal family members accused of corruption in November 2017, and the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates beginning in May 2018. The arrest waves were often accompanied by defamation and slander of those arrested in the country’s pro-government media.

Detaining citizens for peaceful criticism of the government’s policies or human rights advocacy is not new in Saudi Arabia, but what has made the post-2017 arrest waves notable is the sheer number and range of people targeted over a short period, and new repressive practices.

These include holding people at unofficial detention sites, such as so-called corruption detainees held at the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh from late 2017 into early 2018, and the prominent women’s rights activists held at what they described as a “hotel” or “guesthouse” during the summer of 2018. Allegations have emerged of rampant torture and mistreatment at those sites.

Abusive practices also have included long-term arbitrary detention – two years in some cases – without charge, trial, or any clear legal process. Some of the so-called corruption detainees arrested in late 2017 remain in detention without charge or trial, including Turki bin Abdullah, the son of the late King Abdullah and former governor of Riyadh, and Adel al-Fakih, a former government minister.

The authorities also targeted family members of prominent Saudi dissidents and activists, including imposing arbitrary travel bans. Omar Abdulaziz, a Canada-based Saudi dissident, said that Saudi authorities detained his two brothers in August 2018 to silence his online activism.

Other abusive practices have included extorting financial assets in exchange for releasing detainees, outside of any legal process, and seeking the death penalty for acts that do not resemble recognizable crimes. Saudi prosecutors are currently seeking the death penalty against a reformist religious thinker, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, on vague charges relating to the expression of his peaceful religious ideas, and against a well-known cleric, Salman al-Awda, on charges stemming solely from his peaceful political statements, associations, and positions. Both were detained during the September 2017 crackdown.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly used commercially available surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of government critics and dissidents. Citizen Lab, an academic research center based in Canada, concluded with “high confidence” that in 2018, the mobile phone of a prominent Saudi activist based in Canada was infected with spyware. It allowed full access to a victim’s personal files, such as chats, emails, and photos, as well as the ability to surreptitiously use the phone’s microphones and cameras to view and eavesdrop.

The repressive side of the crown prince’s domestic record, however, was not given the international scrutiny it deserved until October 2018, when the violent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate shocked global opinion and led to a broader examination of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

To demonstrate that Saudi Arabia is truly reforming, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should introduce new reforms to ensure that Saudi citizens enjoy basic human rights, including freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, as well as an independent judiciary and due process of law.

The authorities can signal this commitment immediately, Human Rights Watch said, by releasing from detention everyone detained arbitrarily or on charges based solely on their peaceful ideas or expression, dropping all charges against dissidents that do not resemble recognizable crimes, and providing justice for abuses such as torture or arbitrary punishments.

“It’s not real reform in Saudi Arabia if it takes place in a dystopia where rights activists are imprisoned and freedom of expression exists just for those who publicly malign them,” Page said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human rights activist Gamal Eid is seen at a court in Cairo, March 24, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters / Asmaa Waguih

(Beirut) – The prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Gamal Eid has been the target of threats, physical assaults, and vandalism since September 30, 2019 that indicate government involvement, Human Rights Watch said today. Egyptian authorities should bring an immediate end to these attacks on Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

On October 10, two armed men in civilian clothes physically assaulted Eid, leaving him with several cracked ribs and injuries to his arm and leg. Most recently, on October 30, Eid received calls and a text warning him to “behave,” and the next morning found a car he had borrowed had been vandalized. His own car had been stolen on September 30, but the police would not investigate.

“The nature of the threats and attacks on Gamal Eid indicate involvement by state security personnel, which Egyptian authorities need to bring to a halt,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “They appear to be part and parcel of the Egyptian government’s campaign of intimidation, harassment, and violence against human rights activists.”

Eid told Human Rights Watch that on October 10, a middle-aged man assaulted him on a street in Cairo’s al-Maadi neighborhood and tried to grab his cellphone and bag. The assailant yelled, “Leave this bag, Gamal!” indicating that he knew who Eid was.

When Eid resisted, the assailant repeatedly hit him with the butt of a gun on his chest and arm. After bystanders and workers in nearby shops gathered to protect Eid, the assailant fired a shot in the air, then fled on a waiting motorcycle with a driver.

The bystanders chased the two assailants, who then left the motorcycle and dropped a cellphone. Minutes later, three men in civilian clothes approached Eid, including one carrying a walkie-talkie who said he was a Police Investigation officer but presented no identification. They took the dropped cellphone and the motorcycle and told Eid to accompany them in an unmarked minivan to the nearby al-Basateen police station.

Once the van was away from the crowd, they dropped Eid on the street and told him to go to the police station, saying that they would follow. At the police station, officers told Eid that the men were not members of al-Basateen police force. Eid said he believed the three were part of the group responsible for the attack.

Police officers at al-Basateen station made Eid wait for a couple of hours and then were unwilling to file a police report until the next morning. Eid said that a worker who witnessed the incident later told him that three uniformed police officers came searching for the bullet shell and collected it.

Eid said prosecutors have not called him or any of the witnesses to obtain their accounts and apparently no investigation was opened. Workers in a nearby shop told him that “unknown” people came to the shop and forced them to delete all recordings from the shop’s CCTV cameras that captured the incident.

Eid also said that unidentified people stole his own car on September 30. Police officers told him they managed to identify the car in three different CCTV cameras in Cairo, including while it was being towed. Eid said that the police abruptly closed the investigation into the case and that police sources told him the case was ordered closed by a “higher sovereign entity,” a term usually referring to a security or intelligence agency.

Eid said he had recently received several threatening phone calls from different numbers. On October 30, he received a call from an Egyptian phone number from a man who said, “Behave yourself, Mr. Gamal.” The man kept calling but Eid did not pick up. The next day, Eid said, he found the car he had borrowed from a colleague vandalized.

Eid said that neighbors told him they earlier saw a group of men, some carrying weapons, around the car. One neighbor said that he overheard one of the men on his cellphone saying, “Yes, pasha, a Nissan Sunny car.” A building concierge on his street told Eid that when he approached the group, one told him that they were police looking for someone.

On October 16, less than a week after Eid was assaulted, security forces arrested a lawyer from Eid’s organization, Amr Imam, at his home and held him incommunicado for two days, after Imam posted on Facebook that he planned to carry out a hunger strike in protest against the recent arbitrary arrests of prominent activists.

Eid founded ANHRI in 2003 to promote freedom of expression and provide legal assistance to activists and journalists. ANHRI and Eid have received numerous international awards for their work on freedom of expression and press freedom in Egypt. In 2016, Egyptian authorities imposed a travel ban on Eid and a court ordered a freeze on his personal assets and the funds of his organization, along with other human rights defenders and organizations, in the 2011 “foreign funding” case.

 “The thuggish attacks on Gamal Eid sadly reflect the deplorable state of human rights under the government of President al-Sisi,” Stork said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

File photo: Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev speaks to the media at the For Human Rights movement headquarters in Moscow, Russia. On November 1, 2019 Russia's Supreme Court granted the Justice Ministry's demand to shut down the organization.

© AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, June 22, 2013.

Today, Russia’s Supreme Court granted the Justice Ministry’s demand to shut down one of the most prominent rights groups in the country – the Movement for Human Rights. The ruling, in keeping with government policy, delivers another severe blow to Russian human rights defenders, who have been increasingly under attack in recent weeks.

On October 31, Federal Security Service and counter-extremism police in Perm, a major city in the Ural Mountains, searched the office of another group, Memorial, which works to preserve the memory of the victims of Stalin’s “Great Terror,” and the home of its director, Robert Latypov, seizing computers, documents, and an old chain-saw.

The searches were part of a criminal investigation into “illegal logging,” which Memorial’s activists supposedly carried out last summer. Latypov told me that the “logging” consisted of removing dead branches and a rotten fence from the cemetery where some Lithuanians and Poles displaced under Stalin were buried. The organization was targeted the day after the Day of Remembrance of Political Repression Victims, an irony not lost on Latypov and other Memorial activists.

This pattern of targeting human rights defenders is not new, but it is escalating.

Earlier this month, a court in Moscow fined the headquarters of Memorial in Moscow 400,000 rubles (US$ 6,250) for failing to add “foreign agent” markers to their YouTube and Facebook posts – breaching one of the government’s repressive laws which requires all organizations designated “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry to identify themselves as such in all of their publications.

Memorial’s Human Rights Center was also issued a 300,000-ruble fine (US$4,690) for a similar reason. In a more personal attack, Yuri Dmitriev, head of Memorial’s branch in Karelia in the northwest of the country, well known for exposing mass graves of people shot dead during Stalin’s era, is now facing bogus charges of sexually abusing a child.

This smear campaign is widespread and aimed at undermining the work of human rights defenders in the eyes of the public. Two weeks ago, one of Russia’s top broadcasters, NTV, aired a story about Memorial, the Movement for Human Rights, and others, accusing them of portraying “extremists” and “hooligans” as political prisoners, engaging in dirty financial activities, and duping naïve people.

And yet, despite being prosecuted, smeared, and stifled with fines, Russian defenders persevere.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zayar Lwin, center left, member of Student Union and a leader of Peacock Generation "Thangyat" Performance Group, talks as he leaves a township court along with his colleague Paing Phyo Min, right, after their trial on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar.

© 2019 AP Photo/Thein Zaw
(Bangkok) – The Myanmar authorities should immediately quash the convictions of five theater performers for criticizing the military and drop all remaining charges against troupe members, Human Rights Watch said today. The five had been arrested for performing satirical slam poetry known as thangyat, a traditional vehicle for humorous criticism of topics from politics to social behavior.

On October 30, 2019, a court in Yangon sentenced five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe to a year in prison for a performance that allegedly mocked the military, in violation of section 505(a) of the criminal code. The defendants, Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, Paing Phyo Min, and Zaw Lin Htut, have been held without bail in Myanmar’s Insein Prison since being charged in April.

“Sentencing actors to prison for a satirical performance shows the Myanmar military’s irrational intolerance of any sort of criticism,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The military seems willing to dredge up any law in their boundless quest to silence their critics.”

Section 505(a) of the criminal code makes it a crime to make any statement “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.”

Zayar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, Paing Phyo Min, Su Yadanar Myint, and Nyein Chan Soe are also awaiting trial and face up to three additional years in prison on a second charge of “defaming” the military under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for live streaming their performance online. The authorities have repeatedly used section 66(d) against those criticizing the government or the military online.

Speech critical of the government is increasingly subject to prosecution in Myanmar by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) as well as the military, Human Rights Watch said. More than 250 people faced criminal lawsuits in 2019 under various laws restricting freedom of expression.

In September, the NLD’s Mandalay region office filed criminal defamation charges under section 66(d) against Aung Pyae San Win and Swam Ka Bar for posting memes on a satirical Facebook page about the Mandalay chief minister. The same week, the chairman of the NLD’s Maubin township branch filed a criminal complaint under the same provision against Naing Zaw Oo, a cartoonist (known as “Ahtee”), alleging that he defamed the NLD and its local branch in social media posts criticizing the branch’s record.

Others who have faced charges recently for exercising their rights to free expression include the Burmese language editor of The Irrawaddy, Ye Ni, for reporting about military attacks in the town of Mrauk-U in Rakhine state, and a filmmaker, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who has already been sentenced to a year in prison at hard labor under section 505(a) for criticizing the military’s role in politics on Facebook.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on the right to freedom of expression, stated that the “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

“Myanmar’s government seems intent on jumping on the military bandwagon to crack down on freedom of expression,” Robertson said. “Until Myanmar’s repressive laws are repealed or amended, military and civilian officials will be free to prosecute theater troupe members, cartoonists, and filmmakers just because they didn’t like what they saw, read, or heard.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am