HRW calls on S Arabia to free pro-reform writer
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Saudi authorities to free a writer who was arrested following a TV interview in which he discussed his ideas for peaceful reforms in the Persian Gulf monarchy.
Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, said on Monday that Saudi officials should charge Zuhair Kutbi, a prominent Mecca-based writer and commentator, with a recognizable crime or release him immediately.
“If there is no evidence of criminal behavior, the Saudi authorities should immediately release Kutbi and compensate him for the ordeal they have put him through.”
This comes as Saudi authorities have been holding Kutbi, 62, apparently without charge, and have not brought him before a judge.
The HRW official also urged Riyadh to put an end to the harassment and repression of journalists across the kingdom.
“Saudi authorities apparently have little better to do than to harass and jail people for nothing other than peacefully expressing their opinions,” added Stork, noting, “It’s time for King Salman to put an end to this escalating repression and release all peaceful activists and writers.”
The New York-based rights group also pointed out that Kutbi’s writings had previously earned him six similar arrests.
His latest arrest followed an hour-long appearance on the television program Fi al-Sameem (In-Depth), which was aired on June 22 on the pan-Arab satellite TV channel Rotana Khaleejia. Kutbi had called for reforms, including transforming the country into “a constitutional monarchy” and combating “repression.”
The Saudi authorities had temporarily suspended the program earlier in June after another guest, Mohsen al-`Awajy, had indirectly criticized the late King Abdullah.
Several Saudi bloggers, writers, activists and journalists have been imprisoned in recent years.
Raef Badawi, a prominent Saudi blogger is already serving a 10-year sentence and was ordered to be flogged 1,000 times after being found guilty of insulting Wahhabism. His lawyer Waleed Abulkhair was also sentenced to 10 years in jail with five years suspended after being convicted of charges including “inciting public opinion.”
Badawi’s case sparked an intentional outcry by rights campaigners who had demanded his immediate release.
However, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir on Monday strongly rejected international calls for the release of Badawi from prison.
“We do not accept outside interference,” Jubeir told a press briefing in the German capital Berlin.