Paris – The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) is gravely concerned about the escalation of arrests of civilians in Saudi Arabia due to their expression of views on social media.
AFDH stated that the Attorney General in Saudi Arabia issued on Monday 10 August, 2019 judicial orders to arrest a group of people on charges of “abusing education through social media and TV channels.” He did not however identify who or how many people would be detained.
Various social media activists have mentioned names of people who were likely to have been arrested. One of the names mentioned was sports analyst Ahmed Al-Musaibeh, who was accused of mocking teachers during a TV interview. During the interview, he simply compared the absence of a football player for 8 months to the absence of teachers from their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
AFDH has monitored a campaign launched against Al-Musaibeh on Twitter where people working in the education sector and various other sectors took part in denouncing comments made by the sports analyst. Many demanded that Al-Musaibeh should be held accountable for what he said in the interview. Since then, he has apologized and confirmed that he did not intend to insult teachers during the interview.
Another activist called Abdul Salam Al-Shahrani has been included in the arrest campaign due to a video he shared on social media in which he criticized the long vacation of teachers. He also called on the country’s authorities to improve methods of education and to keep up with the pace of other developed countries. After receiving extensive criticism and demanded to be held accountable for his comments, he posted another video in which he apologized for insulting teachers and confirmed that he had been talking in a comical manner.
Accordingly, AFDH criticizes the recent arrest campaign, which constitutes a serious violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the Kingdom.
In a statement, AFDH expressed, “we are gravely concerned that the executive or judicial authorities are violating international commitments by following pressure and incitement campaigns on social media without considering any legal criteria for detention.” In this regard, AFDH denounces the absence of a fair system of accountability in Saudi Arabia.
AFDH emphasizes that the decision of the Saudi Attorney General violates international and Saudi law, which guarantees freedom of opinion and expression without restriction or prosecution. Article 36 of the Kingdom’s constitution stipulates, “The state provides security for all its citizens and residents within its territory and no one shall be arrested, imprisoned, or have their actions restricted except under the provisions of the law.” Moreover, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant has guaranteed this right stating, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The Francophone Association for Human Rights calls on the Saudi authorities to immediately release those who have been detained on this issue and all prisoners of conscience. We also stress the need to properly apply the law, independently and comprehensively without selectivity.
In addition, AFDH calls upon international bodies led by the United Nations, to monitor Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which is in continuous decline due to the country’s frequent violations, especially in regards to arbitrary detention.