Raif Badawi sentence highlights Saudi Arabia’s human rights hypocrisy - Brian Pellot

Raif Badawi sentence highlights Saudi Arabia’s human rights hypocrisy - Brian Pellot

Saudi Arabia is hardly a beacon of human rights. Women can’t drive. Freethinkers can’t blog. Gays can’t have sex. The list goes on. And on. And on.

Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot

 
Brian Pellot is director of global strategy at RNS. He is based in London. For his blog on freedom of expression and religious freedom, visit brianpellot.religionnews.com.

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So when Saudi joined the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) last year, I sort of lost it. Saudi — tasked with promoting human rights as a HRC member — regularly imprisons, fines, lashes and stones people for exercising their rights. The hypocrisy was too much. And it’s only gotten worse.

Last week, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — headquartered in Saudi — hosted a session of the Istanbul Process to discuss implementing HRC Resolution 16/18, adopted in early 2011. The resolution aims to combat belief-based intolerance and violence while protecting the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. Other initiatives, such as the Rabat Plan of Action, provide further guidance on international obligations in this area. Saudi endorses combating what it sees as intolerance (see its stance on defamation of religion, blasphemy, and other thoughtcrimes), but the part about protecting rights? Not so much.

Just three days after the summit in Jeddah came to a close, Saudi’s Supreme Court upheld its harsh sentence against Raif Badawi, a blogger found guilty of apostasy and “insulting Islam” for running a website that hosted religious and political debates. If you haven’t been following the #FreeRaif campaign, Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 public lashes, a 20-year travel ban and a fine of more than $250,000.

Michael De Dora, president of the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, called out Saudi’s hypocrisy at a HRC session back in March:

“If Saudi Arabia is sincere about acting as host of the next meeting, it could begin to validate its role rather easily: release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, drop all charges against them, and move to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression.”

To no one’s surprise, Saudi did nothing of the sort. De Dora wasn’t in Jeddah last week, but my friend Andrew Smith, legal officer at Article 19 in London, was present.

When Smith and other civil society representatives raised Raif Badawi’s case at the summit, Saudi’s ambassador to the UN butted in, arguing that it was irrelevant and inappropriate to raise individual cases.

“Saudi Arabia was an uncomfortable venue for a conference on freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief,” Smith said of the whole experience.

He described the latest meeting as “indicative of how the Istanbul process, rather than being a forum for exchanging best practices on promoting tolerance, remains an ideological battleground between diplomats over different understandings of human rights and whether ‘defamation of religions’ should be banned or not.” On one side, Europe and the West. On the other, the OIC, based in Saudi.

If Raif Badawi’s case is an accurate indication of how Saudi conceptualizes human right, and I think it is, I’ll stick with the West.

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