UN slams Saudi 'anti-terror' laws for masking torture

UN slams Saudi 'anti-terror' laws for masking torture
"Those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression are systematically persecuted": A new UN report - commissioned by Saudi authorities - has spectacularly backfired.
3 min read
07 June, 2018
The report rubbishes claims that Saudi has become more liberal in recent years [Getty]
Saudi Arabia is using anti-terror legislation to legitimise torture, silence dissent and detain human rights activists, a new report by the UN has found.

The UN's special rapporteur on anti-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, undertook a five-day official investigation in the kingdom at the invitation of the Saudi authorities, and published the damning findings on the human rights situation on Wednesday.

Emmerson reportedly met with senior Saudi politicians, judges, police and prosecutors during his trip, but was denied access to many prisons where human rights defenders are locked up.

"Those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression are systematically persecuted in Saudi Arabia," the report says. "Many languish in prison for years. Others have been executed after blatant miscarriages of justice.

"A culture of impunity prevails for public officials who are guilty of acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Peaceful avenues for redress of grievances are foreclosed by the use of repressive measures to silence civil society," it adds, according to sections published in The Guardian.

Moreover, the report was completed before the latest wave of arrests of Saudi activists and bloggers, including 11 female activists who have been campaigning for the right to drive and a relaxation of infantilising guardianship laws.

But somewhat ironically, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being hailed worldwide as a reformist figure for "liberalising" the kingdom, despite his authoritarian approach to domestic and foreign policy.

"Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia is undergoing the most ruthless crackdown on political dissent that the country has experienced in decades," Emmerson told The Guardian.

"Just as the Kingdom is handing out the first driving licences for women, it is locking up the very people who campaigned for this modest reform.

"Reports that Saudi Arabia is liberalising are completely wide of the mark," he added. "The last two years have seen an unprecedented concentration of executive power in the monarchy across every sphere of public life."

Emmerson also said it was a "matter of shame" that Saudi Arabia had been allowed onto the UN Human Rights Council in 2016.

The report points to Saudi's 2014 Terror Law, broadly defined as any "destabilising" or "disruptive" act. This, Emmerson states, is then used to justify torture and prolonged prison sentences which are used to extract coerced confessions from the accused.

Torture includes electric shocks, sleep deprivation, being held incommunicado for prolonged periods of solitary detention, and beatings to the head, face, jaw, and feet, the report alleges.

Furthermore, between 2009 and 2015 more than 3,000 allegations of torture were officially recorded, however not a single official was prosecuted for their abusive actions, according to the report.