By Staff writer
Human Rights Watch says Gulf kingdom is issuing hefty sentences on vague charges to prominent activists
Saudi courts are sentencing prominent reform advocates, activists, and writers to lengthy jail terms – and even death – on vague charges related to the peaceful exercise of free expression, according to an international rights organisation.
US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that most recently, a Saudi court sentenced Zuhair Kutbi, a critic who called for domestic political reform, to four years in prison, a five-year travel ban, and a 15-year ban on media appearances.
The group said the December 21 ruling was the latest in a "series of harsh judgments against peaceful advocates during King Salman’s first year".
“Human rights advocates hoped that King Salman would rein in his country’s repression of peaceful dissidents, but the authorities harass and jail people for peacefully expressing reform-oriented opinions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director.
“The king should put an end to this sustained assault on free expression and release all peaceful activists and writers.”
Human Rights Watch said that during 2015, at least six men, including prominent writers, dissidents, and reform advocates, were punished for peaceful expression of their opinions.
One was sentenced to death and the others to lengthy prison terms. At least four were also banned from traveling abroad for five to 10 years.
It added that most faced broad, catch-all charges designed to criminalise peaceful dissent, such as “sowing discord,” “reducing the government’s prestige,” and “inciting public opinion.”
In addition to the most recent convictions, more than a dozen prominent Saudi activists are serving long jail sentences as a result of their peaceful activism, including Waleed Abu al-Khair and Fadhil al-Manasif, both sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court as a result of their peaceful human rights work, the rights group statement said.
“Outlandish sentences against peaceful activists and dissidents demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s complete intolerance toward citizens who speak out for human rights and reform,” Whitson said.
“Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be sending people to prison for their peaceful opinions, and these cases certainly have no business in a terrorism court.”