Saudi’s UK embassy denies report of clemency for female activists

BBC Arabic says the Saudi embassy in London denies its ambassador spoke of possible clemency for female activists ahead of G20 summit.

The Saudi ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said in an interview with The Guardian that the kingdom was under growing pressure over its human rights record [File: Adrian Dennis/AFP]
The Saudi ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said in an interview with The Guardian that the kingdom was under growing pressure over its human rights record [File: Adrian Dennis/AFP]

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London has denied a report Riyadh was considering clemency for jailed female activists ahead of a G20 summit later this month.

“The Saudi embassy in London denied to the BBC that its ambassador had said a debate was ongoing in the Kingdom about the possibility of clemency for detained women’s activists before the G20 summit,” BBC Arabic said in a Twitter post.

No further details were provided.

The denial came a day after Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said in an interview with The Guardian that the kingdom was considering clemency for a group of jailed women’s rights activists after coming under growing pressure over its human rights record.

The ambassador told The Guardian that a debate was under way about whether the women’s detention was causing Saudi Arabia political damage.

“The G20, does it offer an opportunity for clemency? Possibly. That is a judgment for someone other than me,” The Guardian quoted the Saudi ambassador as saying.

“People ask: is it worth the damage it is causing you, whatever they did? That is a fair argument to make and it is a discussion we have back at home within our political system and within our ministry.

“There is a variety of views. Some people say it doesn’t matter what other people think of us, what is important is to do what is right for our country, and if people knowingly break our laws they should be punished according to those laws. Other people say it isn’t worth it, let them out, let them live their lives and ignore them,” he explained.

One of the themes of the G20 summit, which is scheduled to be held virtually starting November 21, is women’s empowerment.

Although the ambassador denied that the women were being held because they sought the right to drive, some of the imprisoned women had called for the lifting of a decades-old ban on female drivers.

One of them is Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been on a hunger strike since October 26.

Al-Hathloul, 31, was arrested along with about a dozen other female activists in May 2018, just weeks before Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on female drivers.

A UN women’s rights committee called for her “immediate” release earlier this month, saying that al-Hathloul’s deteriorating health was “deeply alarming”.

‘PR stunt’

Al-Hathloul’s sister Lina dismissed the ambassador’s remarks at the time of The Guardian interview as part of a publicity stunt.

“This is simply a PR stunt, again. Loujain and most of the jailed Saudi activists have not been convicted. It’s been nearly three years and they are still arbitrarily and illegally detained,” she told The Guardian.

Some of the activists arrested with al-Hathloul have been provisionally released, while others remain in detention amid what campaigners call opaque court trials over charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

The pro-government media branded al-Hathloul and other jailed activists as “traitors” and her family alleges she faced sexual harassment and torture in detention, including electric shocks and waterboarding.

Saudi authorities strongly deny the charges.

Human Rights Watch called on this week the G20 leading economies to press Saudi Arabia to release all those imprisoned unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses ahead of the summit

“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,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

Source: Al Jazeera

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