President Obama urged to tackle human rights violations in Saudi Arabia

US President Barack Obama begins his trip to the Middle East with a visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

President Obama will meet Saudi Arabian King Abdullah in Riyadh, prior to giving a much-anticipated speech in Cairo on Thursday.

Amnesty International has described the meeting as a key opportunity to confront human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of people in the country are currently detained under conditions of virtual total secrecy on grounds of security. Some are prisoners of conscience. Others were forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia from other countries.

Many are held without charge or trial and without access to legal assistance or the courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Many are alleged to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in order to force them to confess to the accusations against them.  

“President Obama should urge the government of Saudi Arabia to immediately release anyone held solely because of the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly or association, and ensure that all detainees held on suspicion of terrorism-related offences receive fair, prompt and public trials or are released,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.

The death penalty is extensively used in Saudi Arabia, and is often imposed after summary and secret trials, and for offences such as “apostasy”, “witchcraft”, and anything deemed to be “corruption on earth”.

It is also used disproportionately against foreign workers from poor countries. Saudi Arabia continues to be one of a handful of countries that executes juvenile offenders.

“President Obama should press the Saudi Arabian authorities not to execute or sentence to death anyone who was under 18 at the time of the crime and to review all such death sentences with a view to commuting them,” said Malcolm Smart.