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UN rights office calls on Saudi Arabia to release women activists, uphold rights

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

The United Nations human rights chief has urged Saudi Arabia to release women activists and also uphold freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as the Arab kingdom prepares to hold the 2020 G20 Riyadh Summit in November.

Delivering a speech at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on Riyadh to also review convictions of activists, religious leaders and journalists, urging Saudi leaders to release several women activists, who are behind bars for demanding “reforms of discriminatory policies.”

The ultra-conservative regime of Saudi Arabia has frequently been criticized by the UN and international rights groups for violating the rights of people, particularly those of women and activists, the high number of executions, and a sweeping crackdown on political dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners.

Riyadh came under fire in 2018 and beyond after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and had his body dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Evidence has shown that the gruesome killing had been carried out by a hit squad with close links to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish officials have accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the killing.

“I also call for full transparency in the ongoing judicial proceedings, and comprehensive accountability, regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” Bachelet added.

Over the past years, Riyadh has redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of Riyadh. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime, with government forces increasing security measures across the province.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the UN top official called on the international community to show solidarity with the people of ethnic Asian origin who are subject to discrimination amid an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus that commenced in China late last year.

“The coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity, and I call on member states to do their utmost to combat this and other forms of discrimination,” Bachelet further told a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

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