26 October 2017 – On the occasion of the European Parliament visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of the month, ECDHR expresses its deep concern about the ongoing, systematic human rights violations in the country and urges MEPs to raise a number of recommendations to the authorities during the mission. The visit to Bahrain, which was planned just after the one to Riyadh, was cancelled as Bahraini authorities denied entry to the country to DROI members.
On 29 and 30 October, a delegation of the European Parliament composed of four members of DARP, the Delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula, notably Ms Alliot-Marie, Ms Virkkunen, Mr Khan and Mr Kappel, will pay an official visit to Saudi Arabia. They will be accompanied by seven members of DROI, the Subcommittee on Human Rights, notably Mr Preda, Mr Adaktusson, Mr Weidenholzer, Ms Becerra Basterrechea, Mr Karski, Mr Solé and Mr Martin, who were supposed to continue the mission in Bahrain on 31 October and 1 November. However, they were denied access by Bahraini authorities for “unsuitability of the proposed period for visit”.
In recent years, Saudi authorities have systematically targeted civil society activists in an attempt to further restrict freedom of expression. As a result, today most of the country’s prominent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, intimidated into staying silent or forced to flee the country. This trend has continued in 2017 with the recent detention and prosecution of a string of activists, prominent religious figures, writers, journalists and academics only for their peaceful expression. In addition, the number of executions in Saudi Arabia has risen dramatically, reaching 101 people so far in 2017, and death penalty has been increasingly used by the State as a tool against political dissidents.
Despite the recent announcement of upcoming reforms meant to ease restrictions on women, they continue to face severe discrimination in all aspects of their lives due to the male guardianship system which remains the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country.
Lastly, religious discrimination against the kingdom’s Shia minority continues to be a major issue in Saudi Arabia, where anti-Shia bias is apparent in the criminal justice system, in housing, development, government services, and in the rhetoric in the Education Ministry’s religious curriculum.
In Bahrain, since mid-2016, the situation has escalated into a human rights crisis, with a complete closure of the democratic space. The government dissolved Bahrain’s two major opposition political societies, Al-Wefaq and Wa’ad, and indefinitely suspended Al-Wasat, the only independent newspaper. Between June 2016 and June 2017, at least 169 dissidents or their relatives were arrested, summoned, interrogated, prosecuted, imprisoned, banned from travel, threatened, or arbitrarily revoked of their nationality. Among them, prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and UK-based activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, whose in-laws are currently detained as a consequence of his human rights activity.
Furthermore, in January Bahrain re-empowered its National Security Agency (NSA) with the authority to arrest, detain and interrogate individuals suspected of terrorism or security-related crimes. Bahraini security forces continue to use excessive force, killing six protestors since the beginning of 2017, and officials have continued the widespread use of torture and other human rights violations. Military courts have been empowered to try civilians, under a constitutional amendment that could be used to try any civilian charged under anti-terrorism law, including peaceful activists. And finally, on 15 January 2017, Bahrain ended a de facto moratorium on the death penalty by illegally executing three torture victims.
In recent years, Bahrain has denied entry to scores of human rights advocates, critical journalists and members of the international community as part of a systematic policy to shut down the possibility for international observers to report directly on the harsh repression in the country and demonstrates the regime’s unwillingness to address its ongoing human rights abuses.
Ahead of their visit to the Gulf, ECDHR urges MEPs to call on Saudi authorities to release all political prisoners and human rights activists detained for their peaceful expression and their legitimate work, to protect civic space and to allow writers and activists to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. ECDHR also urges MEPs to call for the imposition of a moratorium on all executions with a view to the abolition of the death penalty.
Additionally, we call on Saudi Arabia to end the discrimination against religious minorities, notably the kingdom’s Shia community, and to allow women to participate in society with the same rights as men, including by removing the restrictions imposed by the guardianship system.
In conclusion, we reiterate our deep concern for the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain and we strongly condemn the decision made by Bahraini authorities to deny access to the country to members of DROI Committee.