Gulf: Don’t believe the hype, GCC states are as repressive as they’ve ever been

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries hosting of series of major sporting events should not be allowed to overshadow their record of ongoing human rights violations, Amnesty International said today ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in November.

At least 75 people are in prison in at least four of the GCC states — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly. Saudi Arabia has just won the rights to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029.

Sport fans should pause for thought and consider the dozens of people languishing behind bars in GCC countries simply for exercising basic rights

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

“Governments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain repeatedly repress dissent while investing heavily in rebranding themselves as rights-respecting states. Sport fans should pause for thought and consider the dozens of people languishing behind bars in GCC countries simply for exercising basic rights, and call for their release,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa.

“In GCC countries, public gatherings are severely restricted, women are served outrageous jail terms simply for commenting on Twitter, and NGOs are restricted or banned. Authorities in the region crush dissent by imprisoning state critics and imposing strict censorship. All those jailed for exercising their human rights must be immediately released, and all people in GCC countries should be allowed to speak and move around freely.”

Amnesty International is campaigning for the release of the 75 people, highlighting nine emblematic cases of repression and restrictions on human rights in GCC countries on a special webpage, which you can follow here: ‘Silence is king: the persecution of activists in the GCC’.

Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD student, was sentenced to 34 years imprisonment in Saudi Arabia solely for her peaceful activity on Twitter. She was initially sentenced to six years behind bars in mid-2022. Following an appeal, a judge raised her sentence to 34 years in prison after a grossly unfair trial, followed by a 34-year travel ban from the date of her release. Many others face a similar fate.

In the UAE, human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has to date spent five and half years in solitary confinement, for his human rights work. Mansoor is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after being unfairly convicted of the “crime” of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leaders” in connection with his human rights activism, such as posting on social media.

In Qatar, lawyers Hazza and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri  both members of Al Murra tribe, were sentenced to life in prison on charges of organizing unauthorized public meetings and contesting an electoral law ratified by the Emir that is discriminatory to members of their tribe.

In Bahrain, human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been wrongfully imprisoned for the past 11 years simply for taking part in peaceful protests. He continues to be denied adequate medical treatment for injuries he sustained in 2011 when he was subjected to torture.

To read more about these cases or to other instances of human rights abuses in GCC countries, please visit our story page.


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