By Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, Amnesty International Saudi Arabia Country Specialist
It didn’t have to happen this way in Saudi Arabia. Earlier this decade, Saudi human rights activists saw promise for change, saw their efforts paying off.
Now they’re facing long prison sentences.
Eleven members of the prominent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) are either imprisoned or on trial, and the remaining silenced, for their peaceful activism.
October 12 marks the fifth anniversary of ACPRA, formed by Saudi activists who saw the rights of detainees and prisoners as a central human rights concern. ACPRA protested the abrogation of their rights by the Saudi authorities, the lack of support available to them and their families in society at large, and the impunity with which state security and intelligence forces were able to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill- treatment, enforced disappearance and even unlawful killings of those they suspected of terrorism.
Eight of the 11 men who put their names to ACPRA’s founding document are now in prison themselves because of their peaceful campaigning for the rights of people detained or imprisoned as terrorism suspects.
Human rights activism is not new to Saudi Arabia. Activists within the country have spoken out publicly against human rights violations since at least the early 1990s, despite the risks of government retaliation this entails, and in recent years formed a number of independent human rights organizations.
Now all that progress is at risk.
Amnesty International is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the ACPRA prisoners and detainees and all other prisoners of conscience – those detained or imprisoned solely on account of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and other human rights, including rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.