G20 should press Saudi Arabia on jailed activists, rights group says

Pressure is building on Riyadh ahead of the annual G20 summit later this month.

al-monitor Protesters with Yemeni flags protest in Parliament Square in London on July 5, 2020, against the continued conflict in Yemen at the same time that supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement listen to speeches in a further action in the aftermath of the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in the United States. Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 9, 2020

As Saudi Arabia readies to host the Group of 20 leaders’ summit later this month, Human Rights Watch on Monday urged member countries to pressure Riyadh to release its unlawfully detained activists. 

Rights organizations are ramping up pressure on foreign governments to hold the kingdom accountable for its rights record or snub the G20 altogether. The annual gathering will be held virtually on Nov. 21-22 and chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. 

“The G20 presidency has conferred an undeserved mark of international prestige on the government of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

“Instead of signaling its concern for Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, the G20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression since 2017,” he said. 

The New York-based rights group has launched a Twitter campaign hashtagged  #G20SaudiArabia, calling for the unconditional release of blogger Raif Badawi, journalist Salah Haidar, rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair and female activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz.

Human Rights Watch also demanded justice for Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. In September, a Saudi court sentenced eight unnamed defendants over Khashoggis’ killing, but no senior officials have been held accountable. 

The rights group also urged Saudi Arabia to facilitate access for United Nations experts investigating violations against civilians in Yemen, where Riyadh is leading a military campaign against the Houthi s.

Campaigning by HRW and other rights organizations appears to be paying off. Citing human rights concerns, the mayors of London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris boycotted the Urban 20, a summit of world cities held in Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament voted in September to majorly downgrade the European Union’s participation in the G20.

Last month, a group of House Democrats called on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to withdraw the United States from this year’s G20 summit. A letter signed by more than 40 members of Congress described Saudi Arabia as “an unfit and inappropriate” host.

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