RIYADH, June 7 -- Days after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow women to drive in September 2017, blogger and activist Eman al-Nafjan wrote an uplifting column on CNN.
Praising the tenacity of women's rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, she said: "Other issues seem conquerable. The biggest issue at the moment is the guardianship system." Eight months later, al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, and other women's rights activists and male allies were arrested. They became victims of a widespread online and offline smear campaign, accusing them of trying to destabilise the country and incite public opinion. Since their arrest, there have been allegations of prisoners being tortured - with reports of lashings and electric shocks while in custody. Three Saudi Muslim scholars who are linked to the Sahwa, or the Awakening movement, who are reportedly on death row and could be executed in days, are also believed to have suffered in prison. Salman al-Awdah was hospitalised as a result of solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International, Awad al-Qarni health has also deteriorated, according to activists, while Ali al-Omari has reportedly suffered burns and injuries all over his body as a result of electric shocks during solitary confinement for more than a year.
Adam Coogle, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "You have serious allegations of torture by investigators. This is something you will frequently hear from other human rights activists as well." Among these prisons are al-Haer in Riyadh, Dhahban near Jeddah, and Dammam in the Eastern Province. Women's rights defenders, protesters from the predominantly Shia Muslim minority Eastern Province, and other dissidents often stand trial at the Specialised Criminal Court,the kingdom's counter terrorism court. "Most human rights activists and dissidents are in [both] Mabahith-run prisons or general prisons," Yahya Assiri, a Saudi activist who founded the human rights organisation Al Qst said. While general prisons are run by the Ministry of Interior, maximum security prisons are headed by the police agency of the Presidency of the State Security, commonly known as the Mabahith. Conditions in the general prisons are abysmal and worse than in the maximum security facilities, said Assiri, adding that corporal punishment is common while corruption has fuelled an illicit drug smuggling trade. "These facilities are far more outdated than maximum security prisons, and cells are often overcrowded," he said. In its 2018 annual report, Al Qst claimed that authorities forced prisoners to sleep in the toilets.
Essam Koshak, an activist and computer engineer was arrested in January 2017 for speaking out against the male guardianship system on Twitter, and sentenced to four years in prison followed by a four-year travel ban. Though he was tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, he was held in Mecca General Prison before being transferred to the maximum security al-Haer Prison in Riyadh. Similarly, activist Issa al-Nukheifi was held in pre-trial detention in Mecca General Prison without any charges presented. At the Specialised Criminal Court, he was sentenced to six years in prison followed by a six-year travel ban over Twitter posts criticising the Saudi royal family and government. He is also being held at al-Haer. Though conditions at Mabahith-run facilities are relatively better, Assiri said that overall, prisons built and administered for detainees suspected of terrorism or other extreme security charges are "extraordinarily worse than before". Although several activists have been temporarily released as their trials proceed, it is expected that they could face 20 years in prison, as per Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism law. Saudi Arabia has acceded to the UN Convention Against Torture - with reservations, but reports from human rights organisations and testimonies indicate that systematic torture is widespread with impunity.
Az-Zahra Hussein, his daughter, said in a Facebook post her father will be released "with precautionary measures", and will soon be transferred to a police station from the prison. Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said under Egyptian law Hussein must be freed within 24 hours. "This is a final court ruling but the problem is that security forces tend to delay releases when they do not like those freed," said Eid, adding in some previous cases the execution of the release order took several months. The journalist has been in custody since 2016 without formal charges, trial or conviction. Hussein was accused of "incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos", allegations he and Al Jazeera Media Network deny. Nasr told Anadolu news agency the Cairo Criminal Court rejected the prosecutors' appeal on Thursday. "This case shows the misuse of pre-trial detention as a form of punishment in Egypt," said Eid. He said there are at least 20,000 people currently in detention without charge in Egypt for political reasons. Hundreds of them have already exceeded the legal two-year pre-trial term, he added. Since the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Al Jazeera Media Network has been portrayed as Egypt's national enemy for its coverage of the group. Many of its reporters have been arrested on grounds of spreading lies and supporting "terrorists" - a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation.
Hussein's detention was in violation of both Egyptian and international laws, with the former setting 24 months as the maximum period for pre-trial detention. Egyptian authorities have repeatedly renewed his two-year detention. He was arrested on December 20, 2016, by Egyptian authorities upon his arrival in Cairo to visit his family. In February, the United Nations called Hussein's jailing "arbitrary detention", saying the "appropriate remedy would be to release Mr Hussein immediately". In 2013, Egypt also arrested and later imprisoned Al Jazeera's Abdullah Elshamy, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste on charges of spreading "false news" - cases that were widely condemned by international media outlets and many politicians. All have since been freed. Ibrahim Helal, former editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, was sentenced to death in absentia for purportedly endangering national security. Several other colleagues have also been charged in absentia, such as journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane.
ADEN, Yemen, May 18 -- Yemen's security forces managed to capture one of the most prominent al-Qaida leaders during an anti-terrorism operation launched on Saturday in the country's southwestern province of Taiz.
"An elite anti-terrorism security operation managed to capture one of the most dangerous al-Qaida leaders named Bilal Ali Wafi who is wanted as a global terrorist," officer Abdul-Basit Baher said. He added that the anti-terrorism security troops raided an old house in the western countryside of Taiz province and succeeded in capturing Wafi who refused to surrender himself and attempted to use children and women as human shields. A security member was injured during the shooting that erupted while attempting to capture Wafi in his hometown village, he added. Yemeni security authorities previously accused Wafi of masterminding a series of attacks and assassinations against the country's security and government officials. Wafi was operating as a prominent member of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and participated in a terrorist attack in 2012 against a military parade in capital Sanaa, killing more than 100 soldiers and injuring nearly 300 others, Yemeni authorities said.
In October 2017, the United States and other Gulf countries designated 11 Yemenis including Wafi as terrorists who were wanted by security authorities. The Yemen-based al-Qaida branch AQAP, which mostly operates in eastern and southern provinces, has been responsible for many attacks against security forces in the country. The provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, former main strongholds of AQAP, have also been the scene of sporadic attacks or heavy clashes between the United Arab Emirates-backed security forces and al-Qaida militants from time to time. The AQAP, seen by the U.S. as the global terror network's most dangerous branch, has exploited years of deadly conflicts between Yemen's government and Houthi rebels to expand its presence, especially in the southern and southeastern provinces. Enditem
RIYADH, May 13 -- Saudi Arabia says two of its oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates(UAE) in attacks that caused "significant damage" to the vessels.
One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the United States, Saudi Energy MinisterKhalid al-Falih said on Monday. The announcement by al-Falih came as the UAE's regional allies condemned the reported sabotage on Sunday of four ships off the coast of the port city of Fujairah. On Sunday, Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired reports of explosions at the city's port but UAE authorities said the reports were inaccurate. Emirati officials have declined to elaborate on the nature of the sabotage to the ships or say who might have been responsible. The reports come as the US warned ships that "Iran or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region, and as the US is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to counter what it called "threats from Tehran".
UAE says four ships subjected to 'sabotage' off east coast
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran's Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the Saudi tankers. The ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more information about the incident. Mousavi also warned against any "conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers" and "adventurism by foreigners" to undermine the maritime region's stability and security. Tensions have risen in the year since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, restoring US sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal. In his statement, al-Falih said the attacks on the two tankers happened at 6am on Sunday. "One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to Saudi Aramco's customers in the United States," al-Falih said. "Fortunately, the attack didn't lead to any casualties or oil spill; however, it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels." Saudi Arabia did not identify the vessels involved, nor did it say whom it suspected of carrying out the alleged sabotage.
Underlining the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the alleged sabotage as a "serious escalation" in an overnight statement. "Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger," Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said. Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen's internationally recognised government similarly condemned the alleged sabotage. A statement on Sunday from the UAE's Foreign Ministry put the ships near the country's territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, east of the port of Fujairah. It said it was investigating "in cooperation with local and international bodies." Earlier on Sunday, Lebanon's pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, quoting "Gulf sources", reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah's port. State and semi-official media in Iran picked up the report from Al-Mayadeen, which later published the names of vessels it claimed were involved. AP news agency, after speaking to Emirati officials and local witnesses, found the report about explosions at the port to be unsubstantiated. Fujairah's port is about 140km south of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf through which a third of all oil at sea is traded. The facility handles oil for bunkering and shipping, as well as general and bulk cargo.
BANGKOK, January -- Saudi teenager who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her has been granted asylum in Canada, the Thai immigration chief told Reuters on Friday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will be boarding a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday night, immigration chief Surachate Hakpark said, before boarding a connecting flight to Canada. "Canada has granted her asylum," Surachate told Reuters. "She'll leave tonight at 11.15 pm." Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canada will grant asylum to a Saudi woman fleeing alleged family abuse.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who is 18, arrived in Thailand on Saturday, but was initially denied entry. She said she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.
BANGKOK, January 10 -- Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne was in Bangkok on Thursday after Canberra said it would consider giving asylum to an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand, saying she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.
Payne is also expected to discuss the case of a Bahraini footballer with Australian asylum status who has been jailed in Thailand and faces extradition back to Bahrain. Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is currently staying in a Bangkok hotel under the care of the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR), which has been processing her application for refugee status ahead of possible resettlement in Australia. She has refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok this week to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia while denying accusations that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally, Thai authority said. Qunun was initially denied entry to Thailand when she arrived at the Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Saturday, intending to fly from there to Australia to seek asylum. She was later allowed to enter Bangkok on Monday evening by the Thai authorities after a tense 48 hours that saw her refuse to board a flight to Saudi Arabia and barricade herself inside a transit lounge hotel room, while the world watched the drama unfold on social media.
Payne's visit will also put a spotlight on another refugee case, involving a Bahrain footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport last year after arriving for his honeymoon. AlAraibi is currently being detained in a Thai prison awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings to Bahrain where he was previously convicted and is wanted by the authority.
Payne said in her statement that she will raise his case with the Thai government to find ways for his safe return to Australia. World football governing body FIFA says AlAraibi should be freed and allowed to return to Australia where he plays for Melbourne football club Pascoe Vale in the second tier of the Australian League.
Activists have called on Thai authorities to "show humanity" to Alaraibi in the same way that they had to Qunun. Payne will meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Prajin Juntong as well as holding a bilateral meeting with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, as part of her first official visit to Thailandas foreign minister.
BANGKOK, Januari 7 -- An 18-year-old Saudi woman who says she is fleeing family abuse barricaded herself inside her transit hotel room at Bangkok airport to avoid being sent home by Thai authorities, a rights group said on Monday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was scheduled to be sent on a Kuwait Airways flight to Kuwait City, where her family is, on Monday morning. "She has barricaded herself in the room & says she will not leave" until she is allowed to meet the U.N. refugee agency and claim asylum, Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said on Twitter. Qunun was refused entry on Saturday by Thai immigration officials. Thai authorities deny acting at the request of the Saudi government and say she did not have the correct documents for a visa on arrival.
RIYADH, January 3 -- Saudi state media say that 11 suspects in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have attended their first court hearing, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty for five of them.
Thursday's brief statement from the state-run Saudi Press Agency did not name the suspects. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed on October 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He had written columns critical of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia initially denied Khashoggi was killed but acknowledged his slaying weeks later. Turkish media have published photographs of members of the crown prince's entourage at the consulate ahead of the slaying. Khashoggi's body, believed to have been dismembered, has not been found.
RIYADH, December 29 -- The Arabian Peninsula’s largest state, both in land mass and population, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia faces some of the region’s largest challenges in the year ahead.
While 2018 started out with a foreign policy success – the US pulling out of the nuclear deal with rival Iran – the months that followed have left the country in a damaged condition going into 2019.
A draining conflict in neighboring Yemen, the continuing fallout from the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the suspected kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister, a stalemate in the Qatar blockade, and defeat for Saudi-funded opposition factions in Syria all made 2018 a bruising year for the country – and for its 33-year-old crown prince and effective CEO, Mohammed bin Salman (popularly known as MBS). These overseas issues have also left MBS’s domestic reform agenda stalled, with a need to shore up support at home, as he tries to restart a long-overdue restructuring of the highly oil-dependent economy.
After the 2016 launch of an ambitious domestic reform agenda, Vision 2030, MBS imprisoned some of the country’s wealthiest people in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2017. This made him some silent enemies amongst the kingdom’s elite. His father, the ailing, 83-year-old King Salman, has played an important role in keeping potential rivals under control, taking his son on a tour of the country to shore up support for his agenda.