Call for release of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia
New Zealand must be clear: like Canada, we also call for human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia to be released
In the wake of Canadian Government call for detained Saudi human rights activists to be freed, Saudi Arabia has stated it will withdraw all of its students studying in Canada and transfer them to countries that have both good relations with Saudi Arabia and top education institutions. One of those priority countries is New Zealand.
Executive Director of Amnesty International New Zealand, Tony Blackett, said, “If our government is silent on this, it will be seen as an endorsement of Saudi Arabia’s targeted repression of human rights defenders. We must be clear: New Zealand stands with Saudi people who have dared to speak up for their human rights.”
Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on Winston Peters, in his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, to publicly state New Zealand’s support for human rights in Saudi Arabia, the release of prisoners of conscience and an end to the crackdown on freedom of expression.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced retaliatory diplomatic and trade measures against Canada. These include the recall of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador from Canada, a demand that Canada’s Ambassador leave Saudi Arabia within 24 hours and a hold on any new business and investment transactions. Yesterday the diplomatic crisis escalated when the Saudi Arabian education ministry announced it would transfer the 12,000 students studying in Canada to other English-speaking countries, including New Zealand.
Last week, two more prominent women human rights advocates – Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada – were detained in Saudi Arabia. Since May, a number of leading women’s rights activists and campaigners in Saudi Arabia – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef – have been detained for their peaceful human rights work. Many have been held without charge and may face up to 20 years in prison. Others detained recently include women’s rights advocates Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani, and people who have previously been persecuted for their human rights work, such as Mohammed al-Bajadi and Khalid al-Omeir.
“The Saudi Arabian Government should pursue human rights reform. Instead, it has chosen to lash out with punitive measures in the face of criticism. The international community has remained silent for far too long.
“This is a pivotal moment for New Zealand diplomacy. This is when we stand by our values, or quietly endorse blatant human rights violations,” said Blackett.
Samar Badawi has long advocated for the rights of women to vote and drive, and an end to the country’s male guardianship laws. In 2012 she was presented with an International Women of Courage Award by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. In 2014 she was banned from international travel, and in 2016 she was arrested for her human rights work. She is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes with a cane for setting up a website for public debate.
Amnesty International continues to call for all prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia to be immediately and unconditionally released, and for an end to the crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.