0955 GMT April 08, 2020
At least 15 government critics were arrested since mid-May, some of whose whereabouts are unknown amid a serious lack of transparency in the processing of their cases, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, Reuters reported.
They included prominent women’s rights advocate Hatoon al-Fassi, arrested in June as she was planning to take journalists in her car to celebrate the much-hyped end of the world’s last ban on female drivers, long seen as an emblem of repression in the country.
“We urge the government of Saudi Arabia to unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists who have been detained for their peaceful human rights work, including their decades-long campaigns for the lifting of the driving ban for women,” UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne set to become the first Saudi king from a new generation after a succession of six brothers dating back to 1953, has apparently initiated broad reforms to diversify the economy from oil and update deeply conservative social norms.
But critics say the reforms have not extended into politics in an absolute monarchy where all public opposition to the authorities is still banned.
“Dissent, criticism of the government is still not accepted in the country. That can explain why many of these human rights defenders and activists have been jailed. All of them have criticized government policies in one way or another,” Shamdasani said.