Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged Group of 20 member states to press Saudi Arabia to free activists detained unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses ahead of the virtual G20 summit in the kingdom this month.
As the current chair of the G20 major economies, Riyadh has tried to repair its image after global outrage at the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi at its Istanbul consulate, detention of women’s rights activists, and the Yemen war.
HRW, based in New York, said in a statement that the G20 presidency conferred an “undeserved mark of international prestige” on the government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite its “unrelenting assault on freedoms”.
“The G20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression since 2017,” said Michael Page, HRW deputy Middle East director.
Launching the #G20SaudiArabia campaign, HRW called for the unconditional release of Saudi human rights activists, including female activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz as well as blogger Raif Badawi, journalist Salah Haidar and rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair.
Rights group say some of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault.
Saudi authorities have not responded to requests for comment on calls by rights groups for G20 member states to pressure the kingdom on its human rights record. Officials have in the past denied torture allegations and said the arrests were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests. Few changes have been made public.HRW also demanded Riyadh allow United Nations experts access to assess attacks on civilians in Yemen, and an independent, international body to investigate Khashoggi’s murder and review Saudi court documents.
Riyadh has jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years in the case. Prince Mohammed had denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but in 2019 acknowledged some personal accountability by saying it happened on his watch.