The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, ARTICLE 19 and Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a well-attended side event focused on Saudi Arabia entitled, Human Rights Defenders: The Challenges and Their Urgent Need for Protection during the 30th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 15th September 2015. The meeting was chaired by Renate Bloem, Head of CIVICUS UN office in Geneva.
Renate Bloem introduced the meeting and discussed the high volume of human rights violations that are taking place on daily basis in Saudi Arabia.
The meeting was addressed by a prominent human rights defender from Saudi Arabia Dr. Hala Al-Doseri, who talked in detail about the lack of space for civil society in the Kingdom and the way in which the legal system is used to target human rights defenders.
Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, called on the Saudi authorities to meet their obligations and ensure that human rights defenders are protected while undertaking their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, outlined serious concerns with the cyber-crimes and anti-terrorism laws in Saudi Arabia and how they are being used to silence critical voices. Hughes also went through many cases of human rights defenders and bloggers who have been targeted for exercising their freedom of expression, as well as stressed the importance of using the Human Rights Council and its special procedures to discuss these issues and engage with the Saudi authorities.
Khalid Ibrahim, the Co-Director of the GCHR, highlighted the recent cases which GCHR has taken up in which human rights defenders have been subjected to torture and imprisonment for their peaceful human rights activities. It is feared that these defenders have been imprisoned following unfair trials which have been presided over by a highly politicized judiciary.
He also drew attention to the GCHR High Court challenge to the UK Ministry of Justice in relation to its provision of prison services for profit to Gulf countries that have witnessed massive human rights violations such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.
The meeting was concluded by many rounds of questions and answers. The speakers collectively called for more support and protection to be given to human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.