(Beirut) – President Barack Obama should raise human rights issues during his visit to Saudi Arabia on March 28-29, 2014. His visit comes as Saudi authorities are clamping down on civil society activists and peaceful dissidents, and have arrested and deported at least 250,000 foreign workers since November, according to the Interior Ministry.
Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism law and a series of related royal decrees, all issued since January, create a legal framework that appears to criminalize virtually all dissident thought or expression as terrorism.
“President Obama shouldn’t let the opportunity pass to raise important human rights issues with King Abdullah, including the new counterterrorism law, women’s rights, and mass deportations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “He should make clear that Saudi authorities shouldn’t be using the new, broadly worded terrorism law to restrict further the already restricted space for free expression.”
The foreign workers Saudi Arabia has been expelling en masse include many who have lived for years in the kingdom. None of the 51 expelled workers Human Rights Watch interviewed recently in Somalia and Yemen had an opportunity to challenge their deportations. Most of them reported terrible conditions when they were detained before being deported, including lack of food and water, and beatings by guards.
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Obama on February 27 listing specific recommendations he should make to Saudi authorities to improve the kingdom’s human rights record, in particular for women, migrant workers, and peaceful activists and dissidents.