Brussels (Brussels Morning) EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell is being pressured to scrutinise the repression of freedom of expression and other human rights in Saudi Arabia.
MEP Dietmar Köster (S&D) launched the official question, urging for diplomatic action, on June 9. The move followed a report from Amnesty International condemning the country’s practices of prosecution, harassment and intimidation.
“Among those who have been harassed, arbitrarily detained, prosecuted and/or jailed are government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, relatives of activists, journalists, members of the Shi’a minority and online critics of the government’s responses to the COVID‑19 pandemic”, Köster stated in an official question to Borrell.
Attacks on basic human rights seem to be continuous in Saudi Arabia. The human rights group Reprieved stated in a press release that a 26-year-old man, Mustafa al-Darwish, was executed for protesting against the government as a teenager, having been detained in May 2015. The Saudi Ministry of the Interior made the announcement of his execution public on June 15.
A call for confrontation
Based on reports of atrocities coming from Saudi Arabia, where the authorities are preventing citizens from assembling or expressing themselves, jailing human rights defenders, and ruling based on unfair trials, MEP Köster urged Borrell to confront the Saudi authorities.
“Grossly unfair trials continued before the Specialised Criminal Court and other courts. Courts resorted extensively to the death penalty and people were executed for a wide range of crimes”, reads the Amnesty’s report.
Specifically, the parliamentarian is urging the EU’s diplomacy chief to discuss Amnesty’s report with the Saudi authorities, in the hope of raising awareness of the Gulf country’s conduct and bring about accountability.
At EU level, Köster also expects the Council of Foreign Affairs to be involved in the debate. The MEP further asked Borrell whether he would raise the issue together with EU foreign ministers to consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia.
Having adopted the Magnitsky Act in December 2020, the Parliament is likely to expect the EU to act as an impartial player and t also to proceed according to its values and principles.
Essentially, the report from Amnesty International denounced the detention and imprisonment of all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, at the end of 2020. It placed the country in the spotlight, triggering international action, initiated by the European Parliament.
The Amnesty report further condemns the lack of access to justice for those arbitrarily detained and the harsh treatment of migrants. Among those arbitrarily detained for prolonged periods without access to justice was Mohammed al-Bajadi, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), detained since May 2018.
Migrant workers, too, have become even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic, Amnesty revealed, stating that thousands were arbitrarily detained in dire conditions, leading to an unknown number of deaths.
Last April, the Parliament debated the EU Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, with a focus on the kafala system and migrants’ treatment in the Gulf countries.