‘Weak’ US Lets Saudis Jail More Dissenters, Rights Group Says

‘Weak’ US Lets Saudis Jail More Dissenters, Rights Group Says

The failure of the Biden administration to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led to increased penalties for political prisoners in the kingdom, the Guardian may reveal.

British human rights organization Grant Liberty found that twice as many harsh sentences were handed down to Saudi prisoners of conscience in April than in the first three months of this year combined. It followed the Biden administration’s decision on February 26 to publish an intelligence report that showed the crown prince “had approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

A vigil in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington for murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. More dissidents have been jailed after the United States failed to act, Grant Liberty said. Photograph: Sarah Silbiger / Reuters

In the weeks following the US decision, Grant Liberty said he saw another crackdown on political prisoners and claimed there was a direct link to the US failure to impose sanctions on the crown prince or his circle. narrow advisers. He said the decision gave Saudi authorities carte blanche to impose severe penalties on critics.

“News from the Saudi legal system can be noticeably slow, but at least eight people were sentenced to severe sentences in April alone – twice as many as the first three months of the year combined,” the statement said. No prisoners of conscience were sentenced in April 2019 or April last year.

In late February, the Biden administration announced “the Khashoggi ban”, denying visas to 76 Saudis “suspected of threatening dissidents abroad, including, but not limited to the murder of Khashoggi ”. But critics said the measures, which failed to impose sanctions on the crown prince or his relatives, had done little to discourage Saudi authorities from targeting critics.

Lucy Rae of Grant Liberty said: “The international community must demonstrate that the only way the kingdom can improve its reputation is through real reform. It means we need the hard action [presidential] candidate Biden has spoken, not the weakness President Biden has shown so far. “

Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, an aid worker who was one of eight men sentenced in April, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and an additional 20-year travel ban for handling a parody account on the social networks. Abdulaziz Alaoudh al-Odah, arrested last September for his activity on social networks, was sentenced to five years in prison.

His nephew Abdullah Alaoudh, son of jailed cleric Salman al-Odah, as well as a pro-democracy activist at the Washington Democracy for the Arab World Now thinktank, said the administration’s choice to release the report did little to help. the responsibility. “It absolutely helped transparency and helped us know where the accountability was, but the accountability was completely lacking, and that’s what was at stake from the start,” he said.

“The Biden administration knew that,” Alaoudh added. “But they maneuvered, they wanted something light like ‘Khashoggi’s ban’, and they made the symbolic gesture of speaking not to the crown prince but rather to the king. What the prince took away from all this is that everything [that Biden said] during the [presidential] campaign was just a campaign speech, and therefore they will not act on it. ”

There are 22 prisoners of conscience who have been sentenced for comments related to the kingdom’s former blockade of Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s relations with the small Gulf state are heating up. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, flew to Jeddah Monday evening to meet the Crown Prince, shortly after the visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud to Qatar.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said, “The US commitment to democratic values ​​and human rights is a priority, especially with our partners. We continue to improve respect for human rights in our bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. As we have said repeatedly, peaceful activism to promote human rights is not a crime. “

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington did not respond when contacted for comment.

Alaoudh said that while the crown prince may be willing to change the subject on foreign policy issues, he sees the control of free speech as a direct threat.

“You can normalize with everyone – Qatar, Turkey, Iran – but not with your own people, because it means sharing decision-making, which for them is so dangerous,” he said. “Accepting some kind of political participation or power sharing is the end of absolute monarchy, that’s all they know.”


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