Geneva: The arrest in Saudi Arabia of more than a dozen civil liberties activists has been criticized by the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR), which on Tuesday urged the country’s authorities to reveal their locations and ensure their right to a fair trial.
OHCHR spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell called the development “perplexing”, in light of the “significant loosening” of social restrictions in the Gulf State which are linked to reforms by the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
These include the end next month of a driving ban for women, plans to open cinemas and other economic and social changes covered by the country’s Vision 2030 initiative. Throssell told journalists in Geneva that “since 15 May it appears that at least 13 activists - mostly women - have been arrested, although four of the women were reported to have been subsequently released”.
Citing Saudi media reports, Throssell said that the allegations against the remaining six women and three men in custody appeared to be very serious “and could lead to draconian sentences”.
Speaking on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she appealed to the authorities for information about the detainees, including one woman who has allegedly been held “completely incommunicado”.
She said “we urge the Saudi Arabian authorities to reveal their locations, and ensure their rights to due process guarantees. These include the right to legal representation, the right to know the reason for their arrests, the nature of the charges against them, the right to have access to their families, the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and if charged with an offence, the right to be brought to trial within a reasonable period of time.”
Throssell also raised the issue of “the apparent arbitrary detention and disappearances of other people” in the kingdom. These had happened “without explanation or apparent due process”, she said and included Nawaf Talal Rasheed, a prince from the Al-Rashid dynasty who was allegedly deported from Kuwait on 12 May, and has not been heard of since.
The spokesperson said “we urge the Saudi authorities to immediately provide information concerning his whereabouts, and make clear whether or not he has been arrested, detained or charged, and if so on what grounds.”