UN rights office protests treatment of Saudi reform activist

AFP , Friday 20 Dec 2013

King Abdullah
File Photo: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah arrives at the the opening ceremony of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in Mecca August 14, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

The United Nations' human rights office raised concerns Friday over the treatment of a Saudi activist punished for advocating a constitutional monarchy in the conservative oil-rich kingdom.

"We are deeply concerned about the intimidation and sometimes prosecution of individuals in Saudi Arabia for exercising their right to freedom of expression," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A closed-door court hearing last week reportedly sentenced Omar Al-Saeed to four years in prison and 300 lashes, and banned him from leaving the desert kingdom for a further four years after his release.

"Charges against him included defaming the king, preparing, storing and transmitting material prejudicial to the public order, and disseminating defamatory information on the Internet, apparently in relation to a Tweet in which he reportedly advocated for a constitutional monarchy," Shamdasani said.

The 23-year-old was also charged with membership of an unregistered organisation, she added.

Shamdasani said that Al-Saeed appeared to have been targeted because of his work on civil and political rights with the Saudi campaign group HASEM.

"We have received reports that several other members of HASEM and other activists have already been jailed in similar circumstances or are under investigation by the national security agency, Mabahith," she said.

"We call on Saudi authorities to immediately release all those imprisoned for exercise of their fundamental human rights."

Shamdasani noted that the reported treatment of Al-Saeed suggested that his rights to due legal process may have been breached.

"The use of corporal punishment amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and can even amount to torture under international human rights law," she added.

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