Members of the US Congress, activists and families of detainees have slammed Saudi Arabia’s human rights record while urging the United States government to take action.
The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and the ongoing detention of rights activists were the main issues on the table at the press conference organised by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Washington, DC on Thursday.
Accusing the Saudi government of submitting dissidents to torture, harassment and smear campaigns, Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at Washington-based NGO Project on Middle East Democracy, stressed the need for the US to take a strong stand in defence of human rights.
“These efforts are part of [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman’s attempt to impose a harsh authoritarianism, to consolidate power and to punish and inflict harm on Saudis who are working peacefully to improve and better their society,” said Hawthorne.
“These human rights abuses are bad for Saudi Arabia and they’re bad for the United States,” she said, adding that Saudi rulers “are counting on us to be silent and are counting on impunity from us”.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record came under intense scrutiny following Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The gruesome killing loomed large over Thursday’s proceedings, with Hawthorne describing it as “one event in a deeply disturbing wave of violent repression against a wide range of Saudis: peaceful activists, business people, intellectuals, Saudis of all backgrounds and stripes”.
US Senator Partrick Leahy commended Khashoggi’s bravery in criticising Saudi Arabia, before accusing the Saudi government of “behaving like a criminal enterprise”.
Saudi Arabia claims Khashoggi murder suspects brought to justice
The former prosecutor compared the brutality of Khashoggi’s murder to atrocities committed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
Leahy went on to highlight the case of Walid Fitaihi, a US-Saudi citizen who has been detained in the kingdom for more than a year, apparently without charges or a trial.
Fitaihi, a doctor, has said he was among those held at the Ritz Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and that he was tortured.
“We are here to speak clearly, unambiguously and directly to the government of Saudi Arabia: release Dr Fitaihi now,” said Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts senator.
“We are here to put the Saudi government on notice, to let them know that we are watching and that we will not remain silent.”
Jailed female activists
During the press conference, attention was also drawn to 10 women’s rights activists, who stood trial on Wednesday.
“Over the last two years, we’ve seen a significant increase in human rights violations inside Saudi Arabia […] we’ve seen an increase in allegations of torture, we’ve seen an increase in the severity of the allegations of torture and we’ve also seen, really for the first time, the allegations of irregular detention,” said HRW’s Andrea Prasow.
Prasow praised the US government for passing a bill on Wednesday to halt military support to the Saudi-UAE coalition in the war in Yemen, but said more needed to be done to prevent a return to “business as usual”.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC, said the fact that the press conference took place in the US Congress was a sign of the deep concerns among US politicians regarding Saudi Arabia.
“There has been a complete divide between the Congress and the Trump administration on this entire issue and, importantly, it is a by-partisan issue within Congress. It’s not just Democrats calling for action to be taken against Saudi Arabia, it is Republicans and Democrats very clearing making this a bipartisan issue,” he said.
Children killed in attack on Cameroonian school
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials. The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of…
Assailants storm private school in city of Kumba, Southwest Region, killing at least four students.Attackers have opened fire on a private school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, killing at least four children, according to officials.
The unknown assailants stormed the Mother Francisca School in the city of Kumba on Saturday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“They attacked around noon. They found the children in a class and they opened fire on them,” Kumba sub-prefect Ali Anougou told the Reuters news agency.
At least nine other students were wounded and sent to the hospital. There were fears the death toll could rise.
The Associated Press news agency quoted Anougou as blaming separatists who have been fighting the military in parts of western Cameroon for the attack.
Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions – the Northwest and Southwest Regions – are home to a large minority of English speakers in a country where French speakers are the overwhelming majority – a situation that is the legacy of the decolonisation of western Africa by France and Britain more than 60 years ago.
In late 2016, long-standing complaints of political and economic discrimination against English speakers by the central government spilled over when lawyers, students and teachers began calling for reforms.
The government’s lethal response to the protests provoked rebels to declare in 2017 independence for a region they call “Ambazonia”, triggering a stronger crackdown by the authorities.
Both sides have since been accused of committing atrocities in a conflict that has killed some 3,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against President Paul Biya’s government.
Last year, officials blamed separatists for kidnapping dozens of schoolchildren, charges the separatists denied.
Vietnamese envoy hails KRCS’ global humanitarian efforts
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation…
KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer meets Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh. – KUNAKUWAIT: Vietnamese Ambassador to Kuwait Trinh Minh Manh hailed the humanitarian efforts of Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) around the world. The remarks were made to KUNA yesterday after the ambassador’s meeting with KRCS Chairman Dr Hilal Al-Sayer. He expressed appreciation for the society’s aid to the Vietnamese Embassy during the coronavirus crisis.
The ambassador added that they discussed providing his country with aid to face the impact of the recent floods and landslides, considered to be the worst in decades. Sayer said he was pleased with the ambassador’s visit and affirmed that KRCS will continue exerting humanitarian efforts to aid those affected by natural disasters and crises everywhere. – KUNA
Pain, frustration: Expats lose jobs to new rules and COVID
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the…
File photos show foreign workers applying to leave Kuwait during the amnesty. – Photos by Yasser Al-ZayyatBy Chidi Emmanuel
After working for 24 years in Kuwait, Charley Lyon received the dreaded letter that many expats fear amid the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic and new residency laws. Lyon is among thousands of expat workers in the government sector who were being laid off.
As part of its Kuwaitization policy, Kuwait is replacing expats with locals in the government sector. The government has also stopped issuing work permits to expats over 60 years of age without a university degree. These new rules have had a huge impact on the lives of thousands of expats in the country, leaving many with no choice but to pack their bags and leave.
Gulf countries are facing an exodus of foreign workers as the coronavirus pandemic pushes out foreign workers. In the midst of the COVID-19 and financial crunch, the National Assembly approved a draft law to slash expat numbers over the next five years.
As the budget deficit widens and economic conditions worsen, Kuwait is grappling with an economic downturn as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world. The combined shock of collapsing oil prices, the pandemic and joblessness is reshaping labor policies in the region, thus bringing anti-foreigner sentiments to the fore again.
While Kuwait’s expats struggle to secure their jobs, the government is calling for an increase in workforce nationalization in government entities. “Why will foreigners take the jobs meant for us (Kuwaitis)? They can work anywhere – but not in the ministries,” argued Abdullah, a 26-year-old Kuwaiti.
Buttressing Abdullah’s viewpoint, Fatma, an unemployed Kuwaiti woman, complained of the difficulty in competing with foreign workers for jobs in the private sector. “Foreign workers can work longer for less, unlike us Kuwaitis. So most companies prefer to hire non-Kuwaitis. This leaves us with only one sector (the public sector). I think this is why the government introduced Kuwaitization, so as to give unemployed Kuwaitis an opportunity,” she explained.
For Lyon, justice and fairness should override anti-expat sentiments. “It is understandable that ministries would give preference to locals for jobs during these tough times, but it would be fair to consider the efforts of the old staff who have put in their best to build this country,” Lyon, 61, and some of his co-workers who were laid off recently lamented, as they worry about their future.
Expats make up the majority of the population of Kuwait. Residency is tied to employment and Kuwait does not easily offer citizenship routes to non-nationals. “We have been here (in Kuwait) legally for over 20 years. It will be difficult to go back and start afresh in our home countries. More so, Kuwait’s residency is linked to the work permit – when you lose your job, you automatically lose your residency. I worry about my children who are still in school. The three-month notice will not be enough to relocate them,” Mustapha, an Egyptian expat who recently lost his job, said in dismay.
Abdurazak Hamad, an African expat, is in a dilemma. “I feel miserable leaving my family behind. I don’t want to go alone, but I can’t make my wife quit her KD 450 job since she is now the sole breadwinner. Starting afresh in my home country at this age (62) will be very difficult. I wish I can get a permit (residency) to stay here with my family,” said Hamad, who was recently sacked.