Spotlight on Saudi Arabia

Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, reminds us of some facts about Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record is getting media scrutiny, thanks in part to news that Saudi authorities plan to lash 74-year-old Karl Andree, a British cancer survivor, 350 times for possessing homemade alcohol. Flogging in the kingdom entails a series of strikes with a wooden cane, with blows distributed across the back and legs, normally not breaking the skin but leaving bruises.

In other words Saudi Arabia plans to commit a heinous crime in order to punish a 74-year-old cancer survivor for possessing some alcohol. Saudi Arabia is the criminal here, and by a wide margin. Hitting people with sticks is a very bad thing to do; possessing alcohol, on its own, is not.

In other words Saudi Arabia’s priorities are horrifyingly disordered.

This ruling comes after a year of bizarre and cruel punishments meted out by the Saudi judiciary, including the public flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi in January and a death sentence for Ali al-Nimr, a Saudi man accused of protest-related activities allegedly committed before he was 18 years old.

Campaigning for human rights is a crime there. Violating human rights is fine, and campaigning for them is a crime.

More than a dozen Saudi human rights advocates are languishing in prison today for “crimes” related to their “illegal” human rights work; most are convicted for “setting up an unlicensed organization.” These include activists such as Waleed Abu al-Khair, currently serving an outlandish 15-year sentence solely for his work exposing the government’s human rights abuses.

And then there’s the bombing campaign in Yemen, with probable war crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council has not led to improvements in its rights record. Instead, it has used its position to prevent an international inquiry into laws-of-war violations committed in Yemen. Somehow, bizarrely, Saudi Arabia serves as a partner in the U.S. government’s campaign to “combat violent extremism”—despite its longtime failure to address these issues at home in accordance with basic human rights and the rule of law.

Allies such as the United States and the United Kingdom rarely criticize Saudi abuses; one U.S. official even recently “welcomed” Saudi Arabia’s participation at the Human Rights Council. British Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the possible flogging of Mr. Andree by meekly asking Saudi officials not to carry out the punishment.

So we have to keep yipping and objecting. Louder and louder and louder.

One Response to “Spotlight on Saudi Arabia”