While most of the world marks New Year with promises of hope and change, Saudi Arabia does things a little differently.
The Gulf kingdom kicked off 2016 with 47 executions in a single day — its biggest mass execution since 1980.
This time around, Saudi Arabia has begun the New Year with a crackdown on freedom of speech, signaling another difficult year for human rights in the country.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports Saudi authorities have arrested two independent human rights advocates, Essam Koshak, 45, and Ahmed al-Musheikhis, 46.
“Arrests of peaceful advocates show that Saudi Arabia has no intention of allowing the best and brightest of Saudi citizens to express reform-oriented opinions or of moving the country toward tolerance and progress,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“King Salman should put an end to this sustained assault on free expression, free all peaceful activists and writers, and allow them to contribute to the much-needed advancement of the country,” she added.
Amnesty International also released a statement on the arrests.
“The latest string of arrests has sparked fears that 2017 will be yet another dark year for human rights in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities continue with their attempts to crush any semblance of a human rights movement in the country,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office.
Saudi authorities have not yet disclosed as to why the two activists were arrested. HRW, though, reports the activists’ detentions resulted because of “their peaceful activities.”
Amnesty reports Koshak, who identifies himself as a “human rights defender,” is being questioned about his Twitter account, which he uses to highlight human rights violations. Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Investigation Department summoned him on Jan. 8 to a police station in Mecca. Since then, he has not returned home and has not been allowed to appoint a lawyer.
Al-Musheikhis is one of the founders of the Adala Center for Human Rights based in the Eastern Province. Local police detained him on Jan. 5 “without giving a reason.”
The two activists’ arrests come almost a month after Saudi Arabia reportedly banned one of its most prominent journalists, Jamal Khashoggi, over his progressive views.
Khashoggi, general manager of Al Arab News Channel, has been prohibited from writing in newspapers, appearing on television and even attending conferences.
Saudi Arabia is among the worst countries in the world as far as free speech is concerned.
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