Posted on May 2021
New Activist Crackdown After Biden Let’s MBS off the Hook – new analysis
New analysis, published in a report from Grant Liberty, reveals the incredible $1.5bn scale of the Saudi sports-washing programme as the regime seeks to use the glamour of elite sport to obscure its record of human rights abuse, state-sponsored murder, torture, and the continued bombing campaign in Yemen.
New analysis published by Grant Liberty reveals a growing crackdown on political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, following the Biden administration’s refusal to impose sanctions on Mohammed Bin Salman or his immediate circle in the light of the publication of the State Department’s Khashoggi report at the end of February.
The data comes just days before Abdulrahman al-Sadhan’s appeal period comes to end on May 5th, following his 20 year sentence and 20 year travel ban for the ‘crime’ of running a satirical twitter account. The sentence was handed down just 5 weeks after the Biden administration backed away from punitive action. Abdulrahman had been rumoured to be days away from release before the apparent change of heart. His punishment is in stark contrast the to release (though not freedom) of Loujain al-Hathloul, who was given a lighter sentence in a move widely interpreted as an overture to the Biden regime in January.
News from the Saudi legal system can be notoriously slow, but Grant Liberty has noted at least 8 individuals suffering stiff sentences in April alone – twice as many as the first three months of the year combined – an apparent crackdown on political prisoners in the weeks since Biden’s government failed to target MBS on February 26. They are:
- Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan: Humanitarian aid worker, sentencedin April 2021 to 20 years in prison followed by 20 years of travel ban for allegedly using a parody twitter account to criticize the government’s repression.
- Mohamed Al-Otaibi: Journalist, human and women rights activist, was previously (January 2018) sentenced to 14 years in prison followed by 14 years of travel ban for charges related to activism. He was resentencedto 17 years of prison instead of 14 years, in April.
- Khaled Al-Mahoush: Writer and Journalist sentencedto 10 years in prison followed by 10 years of travel ban in April.
- Yasser Al-Ayyaf:Human rights activist, sentenced to 2 years in prison for contacting foreign media in April.
- Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif: Preacher and a member of the scientific committee of the World Organization for the Holy Quran, and a pilot for Saudi Airlines. Sentenced to 5 years in prison 17 April
- Mohammed Al-Rabiah:Human and Women’s rights activist. Was arrested on 15 May 2018 for tweets supporting Saudi Women’s rights. He was sentenced to 6 years of prison on 20 April.
- Abdulaziz Al-Odah:Son of famous scholar Salman Al-Odah (who is also in prison). He was arrested in September 2019 for social media use, sentenced to 5 years in prison (with 2 years and a half suspended) on 24 April.
- Khaled Al-Omair:Human rights activist. Arrested on July 2018 for tweets calling for reforms in KSA. Was sentenced to 7 years in prison on 25 April 2021.
Sentenced between January and March were:
Mohamad Al-Bishr: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1347471645804552193?s=1001
Osama Al-Sahli: https://www.saudi24news.com/2021/02/reports-of-the-saudi-authorities-arresting-a-well-known-preacher-in-makkah.html
Muhammad Al-Hudaif: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1361603725723230208?s=1001
Israa Al-Ghomgham: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1359947817163186176?s=1001
Publishing the data, Grant Liberty’s Lucy Rae said,
“There is no question that the Saudi regime is highly sensitive to the US Presidency. At the start of this year there were signs that the Biden administration could push the authorities into releasing prisoners of conscience as the price for doing business. But in the light of the President’s failure to impose sanctions on MBS or his immediate circle following the damning Khashoggi report, the Crown Prince has been let off the leash.
“In the weeks since that decision, we have seen a significant crackdown on human rights activists. At least 8 activists have been sentenced to outrageous prison sentences for as little as a writing a satirical tweet in April alone.
“The sad reality is that we are missing a golden opportunity to force change – and secure the freedom of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. Public pressure works. In pursuing its 2030 Vision Saudi Arabia is more reliant on improving its public image than ever before. The international community must demonstrate that the only way the Kingdom can improve its standing is through genuine reform. That means we need the tough action candidate Biden talked about, not the weakness President Biden has so far show.”
Areej al-Sadhan, brother of Abdulrahman al Sadhan said,
“My brother’s sentencing is based on nothing but running a satirical twitter account. For that ‘crime’ he has been sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 20 years travel ban. Today he should be in the prime of his life but after three years of enforced disappearance, torture and solitary confinement his youth and health are being stolen from him, and he is being stolen from our lives. 20 years imprisonment followed by 20 years travel ban, this is a life sentence for no crime, a grave injustice! That means my parents will be deprived from seeing their son for life!”
“With his appeal running till May 5 this is the most important week of my brother’s life. The international community must come together and demand his release. If Western governments truly believe in human rights it is time for them to stand up for decent peaceful humanitarians in Saudi Arabia like my brother.”
The new crackdown comes as Saudi Arabia continues to pursue its Vision 2030, the diversification of its economy, and with it an unprecedented global PR campaign. Yet behind the sports washing and polished ad campaigns KSA continues to persecute those who have called for change – even after the policy shifts they have called for come about.
This week, Saud Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, met with the Qatari Emir in the latest sign of a normalisation in relations between the Gulf neighbours. However, Grant Liberty analysis reveals more than 20 prisoners of conscience remain in prison for activity related to Qatar well after an end to the blockade. They include:
- Salman Al-Odah– the popular cleric who now faces the death penalty in part because of oblique references he made in tweets calling for the Saudi authorities to end its stand off with Qatar
- Ali Al-Omari– media personality also potentially facing the death penalty, arrested in part for his refusal to join public attacks on Qatar
- Essam al-Zamel– an economist, writer and friend of Jamal Khashoggi arrested for communicating with a Qatari during the boycott
Those in prison have suffered a range of human rights abuses including:
Although Loujain al-Hathloul has been released from prison she is not free. She remains on probation, unable to express herself freely and under a travel ban. She is not free – and she is not alone.
Years after the repeal of the women’s driving ban, women’s rights activists remain in prison. Of those arrested alongside Loujain al-Hathloul, at least 3 remain in prison:
- Mayaa al-Zahrani– arrested for tweeting in support of women’s rights activists
- Nassima al-Sadah– a leader of the 2012 Women2Drive campaign, and putative municipal elections candidate
· Samar Badawi – award winning women’s rights activist who has campaigned against everything from the male guardianship law to the driving ban
Notes to Editors
- The US State Department published its report into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi on February 26 2021. The report found Khashoggi’s murderers were acting on behalf ot he Saudi Government
- In spite of that finding the Biden administration failed to impose sanctions on Mohammed Bin Salman or his immediate circle of advisers.
- In the weeks since that decision, news has emerged of a renewed crackdown on prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia. At least 10 have received stiff sentences in just 5 weeks:
- Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-terror-court-aid-worker-Abdulrahman-Sadhan-20-years-prison
- Mohamed Al-Otaibi: https://aohr.org.uk/السعودية-تشديد-الحكم-على-العتيبي-وبد/
- Khaled Al-Mahoush: https://saudileaks.org/en/al-mahawish/
- Yasser Al-Ayyaf: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1380438001742938114?s=20
- Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif: https://www.saudi24news.com/2021/04/saudi-arabia-sentenced-al-hawerini-and-al-sharif-preachers-to-5-years-imprisonment.html
- Mohammed Al-Rabiah: https://saudileaks.org/en/al-rabiah-2/
- Abdulaziz Al-Odah: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1385891078889422851?s=20
- Khaled Al-Omair: https://twitter.com/m3takl_en/status/1386465072948596739?s=20
- 20 Prisoners of conscience remain in prison relating to their refusal to support the blockade against Qatar, months after diplomatic relations have been restored. They are: