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UN official warns of 'growing repression' in Saudi Arabia

David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion

The Saudi government should stop handing down harsh sentences to rights activists, says a UN official, warning against growing repression in the kingdom.

In a Wednesday statement, David Kaye, who serves as the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, censured Saudi Arabia’s punishment for three bloggers and rights advocates, saying the rising trend in the number of court rulings involving rights issues is a sign of "growing repression" in the kingdom.

Kaye also called on the regime in Riyadh to release blogger Raif Badawi, social media activist Mikhlif al-Shammari and Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh. He deplored the January flogging of Badawi.

He said the three “and any others held for the content or form of their expression” should be released from jail.

Badawi was awarded on Wednesday with the European Union’s top human rights award. His wife received the prestigious Sakharov prize on behalf of her husband in Strasbourg, France.

The UN said in a separate statement on Wednesday that Badawi's health has deteriorated since he received his first 50 flogs.

The blogger has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for criticizing the kingdom’s extremist Wahhabi ideology.

The UN also said that Shammari has been put behind bars this month for “stirring up public opinion.” The activist reportedly used social media to advocate reconciliation between Shia and Sunni communities.

The UN criticism comes nearly three months after Saudi Arabia managed to, under a reported deal with the United Kingdom, gain the leadership role at a Human Rights Council panel, provoking indignation around the world.

International human rights organizations have for long condemned Saudi Arabia for its repressive policies toward political dissent. Amnesty International has repeatedly slammed Riyadh for its ever-increasing number of beheadings this year. 

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