Activists urge Saudi to permit rights groups

HRW says Gulf country must pass associations law to stop gov’t interference
Activists urge Saudi to permit rights groups
Joe Stork, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. (Getty Images)
By Daniel Shane
Thu 29 Aug 2013 10:20 AM

Global activists have urged authorities in Saudi Arabia to permit the founding of rights groups in the kingdom without fear of criminal prosecution.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that officials had consistently refused to register human rights groups, leaving them open to legal action “for setting up an unregistered organisation”.

HRW cited the example of a group called the Adala Centre for Human Rights, which on August 28 received an appeals court verdict affirming the Social Affairs Ministry’s denial of registry. The ministry said it would only licence charitable organisation, which Adala does not fall under.

HRW urged Saudi to pass an associations law that would permit groups to operate without fear of government interference. “Saudi Arabia created a catch 22 situation and is exploiting it to harass and prosecute human rights activists,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director. “The authorities should immediately pass an associations law that meets international standards, and let independent human rights and other activists operate without harassment.”

In 2006 the Social Affairs Ministry submitted a first draft of a proposed associations law to the consultative Shoura Council, which was amended and submitted to the Council of Ministers for final approval in 2008. HRW said that no action on passing a highly diluted version of the bill had been taken since 2009.

A number of human rights organisations have been banned or faced legal action in Saudi Arabia in recent years.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabian political rights activist Mohammed al-Bajadi was released from prison, other activists said on Twitter, two years after being detained and a year after he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Bajadi, a founding member of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, was sentenced to four years in prison last year and two other founders were sentenced to prison terms of more than ten years in March.

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