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UN torture committee calls on Saudi to stop corporal punishments

Amnesty International staff hold portraits of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and Saudi rights activist Waleed Abulkhair as they demonstrate in front of the Saudi embassy in the German capital Berlin on January 8, 2016. (AFP)

The United Nations torture committee has called on Saudi Arabia to stop physical punishment, including flogging and amputations, in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

In its first review of Saudi Arabia since 2002, the committee that monitors the UN Convention against Torture also expressed concern about the abuse of bloggers, activists and human rights lawyers in Saudi prisons on Friday.

"Has Saudi Arabia taken steps to prohibit... corporal punishments, such as flogging and amputation of limbs, which are in breach of the convention?" committee member Felice Gaer asked Saudi officials.

Gaer said “a significant number" of suspects have been tortured into making confessions by the Saudi regime.

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (file photo)

She pointed to the case of Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old Saudi blogger who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his writings on the internet, which Saudi authorities described as an affront to Islam. Imprisoned since 2012, Badawi received his first 50 lashes in a public square in the Saudi city of Jeddah in January 2015.

"We are aware of many people belonging to or who actually created human rights organizations have been deprived of their liberty, and sometimes charged and even sentenced to lengthy jail terms," Gaer said. "This casts a pall over the review."

The committee generally examines countries every five years or so, but it could not do so for Saudi Arabia because Riyadh's report on its compliance with the Convention against Torture was already four years overdue.

The UN report follows a recent visit to the kingdom by US President Barack Obama, who raised concerns about human rights violations in the country.

Riyadh has long been under fire at the international level for its grim human rights record.

The kingdom reportedly executed 153 individuals, including 71 foreign nationals, in 2015. Amnesty International said in a report last year that court proceedings in Saudi Arabia “fall far short” of global norms of fairness.

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