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June 13, 2016

During Meetings this Week Obama Administration Should Press Saudi Deputy Crown Prince on Human Rights

Washington, D.C. - Human Rights First today called on President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to press Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to stop targeting human rights activists during his visit this week to Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with the senior U.S. officials.

“Despite the Obama Administration’s rhetoric emphasizing the importance of strong civil societies to national security, senior U.S. officials too often fall silent when it comes Saudi Arabia,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “There can be no exceptions when it comes to countering violent extremism. Washington should stop holding the Saudis to a different standard on freedom of expression and other human rights.”

Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record includes jailing prominent human rights defenders such as Mohammed Al Qahtani, an economist with a doctorate from Indiana University, who is serving ten years in prison for his part in supporting a local human rights organization. Other targeted activists include Raif Badawi, who was jailed in 2012 for hosting a website devoted to open discussion of religious and political issues and sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes, Waleed Abu al-Khair, a prominent human rights lawyer and NGO leader jailed in 2013 and currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for his human rights advocacy, and Ashram Fayadh, a poet imprisoned and sentenced to 800 lashes. 

Human Rights First notes that through its political and financial support for other authoritarian regimes, including Bahrain and Egypt, the Saudi government is enabling widespread and dangerous repression across large parts of the Middle East. 

“Obama, Kerry, and Carter should use this visit as an opportunity to urge the Saudi government to pressure the various armed groups it sponsors in Syria to respect human rights, including calling on Syrian militia Jaish al Islam to release human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh and other activists who were kidnapped by the group in 2013,” said Dooley. “They should also press Saudi Arabia to stop supporting sectarian rhetoric coming from religious leaders and the media in the kingdom, which incites violence in Syria and elsewhere.”

For more information or to speak with Dooley contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.