The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is persecuting prominent activists and other dissidents with renewed zeal so far into 2017, a human rights monitor has claimed.
Two people were sentenced to lengthy jail terms and two more detained without change in January alone, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
The four were arrested after being accused of contact with international media and rights organisations, detentions which HRW says fit a “pattern of ongoing repression against peaceful advocates and dissidents, including harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, travel bans, detention, and prosecution.”
At least 20 prominent critics of the Saudi kingdom’s repressive stance on women’s rights and issues such as capital punishment have been sentenced to jail terms of as long as 15 years since 2011.
People who defy the strictly conservative country’s laws are routinely charged with vague offences such as “breaking allegiance to the ruler” or participating in protests - the broad terms of which have been criticised internationally for not constituting recognisable crimes.
“Saudi Arabia is trying to silence and lock away anyone who doesn’t toe the official line or dares to express an independent view on politics, religion, or human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“When will the Saudi authorities understand that talking to the media or an international organisation should not be a crime?”
The kingdom has ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
“Saudi Arabia repeatedly demonstrates its complete intolerance toward citizens who speak out for human rights and reform,” Ms Whitson added.
Saudi Arabia’s embassy to the UK did not respond to The Independent’s repeated requests for comment.
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