16/04/2013 Muftah: 2013 saudi arabias dark year. Article By Bayan Perazzo.

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Saudi women protest in Qassim demanding the release of prisoners who have been held without trial. (2012)

On April 10, 2013, Amnesty International published a document predicting that 2013 would be a “dark year for freedom of expression” in Saudi Arabia. The organization noted that Saudi authorities had significantly increased suppression of freedom of expression and association in the first quarter of 2013, and called on the government to end its repressive practices.

The document explains that a number of Saudi human rights activists have recently been banned from traveling outside the country, including Adala Center for Human Rights co-founder Sadek al-Ramadan and the head of Saudi Arabian Human Rights Monitor Waleed Abu al-Khair. According to Amnesty, these travel bans violate the basic right to leave and return to one’s country.

The government has found other ways to silence activists. Amnesty’s statement comes days after journalist Iman Al-Qahtani decided to stop tweeting for “the sake of her dear mother,” who had been harassed by authorities. Al-Qahtani has produced excellent work on the Saudi government’s human rights violations, working with groups of people from diverse backgrounds and seeing beyond the usual societal divisions of liberal vs. conservative or Shia vs. Sunni. While the Gulf Center for Human Rights had information that the Saudi Ministry of Interior was planning to arrest Al-Qahtani and a number of other activists, these plans have been “abandoned for the moment.”

In addition to travel bans and harassment, the Saudi government has also arrested a number of human rights activists. Earlier this year, two human rights activists and co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) – Dr Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad al-Qahtani  – were respectively sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison. An elderly former judge and activist Sulaiman al-Rashudi was held in solitary confinement until February of this year. Al-Rashudi’s colleague, Saud al-Hashimi, is also serving a long prison sentence and has reportedly been denied permission to visit his sick mother.

Amnesty International pointed out that these attacks on freedom of expression and association in Saudi Arabia are in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Amnesty document predicts that these violations will continue to increase unless authorities “comply with their international obligations and respect the human rights of everyone in Saudi Arabia.”

Read Amnesty’s full statement here.

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