The families of the jailed Saudis on Friday called on the world to speak out as the kingdom hosts the Group of 20 summit, saying challenging the kingdom’s international reputation is crucial to winning their freedom.
As the leaders of the world’s largest economies prepared for talks on Saturday that went virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic, activists staged a “counter-summit” in hopes of highlighting the ultra-conservative kingdom’s human rights record.
PEN America, the literary group that defends free speech, called out the online forum amid continued outrage over the 2018 murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was strangled and dismembered inside of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul.
“All our relatives are in danger. They face the threat of what Jamal Khashoggi has seen daily,” said Areej al-Sadhan, who said his brother, Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, had been arrested by the secret police. Saudi Arabian in March 2018.
“Your voices are going to help them stay safe,” she said.
Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was arrested at the Riyadh office of the Red Crescent humanitarian group, where he worked, after expressing views on human rights and social justice on an anonymous Twitter account, according to the family.
Areej al-Sadhan, who lives in California, says she has faced grim threats since speaking about her brother, including a warning that she was going to be “dumped in the sewers.”
One of the most prominent Saudis in detention is Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, a key figure in the campaign to allow Saudi women to drive, who was arrested in May 2018 weeks before the kingdom lifted its ban on heating.
She has been on a hunger strike since October 26, when her parents visited her and found her “very weak and desperate”, said her sister, Lina al-Hathoul.
“We should not underestimate the power we have with our voices,” said Lina, who has lived in Europe for several years, during the counter-summit.
“One word to ask about political prisoners and prisoners of conscience – saying their names, making sure they are not forgotten – is really something that could save them.”
Expected change under Biden
Outgoing US President Donald Trump has aligned himself closely with Saudi Arabia, hailing its US arms purchases and hostility towards its US adversary Iran.
Trump said of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman he “saved his ass” after a US Senate resolution, which followed a CIA briefing, found the powerful young royal responsible for the murder of Khashoggi.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, told the counter-summit that he expected President-elect Joe Biden to address human rights in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s support for a brand of Islam that “forms the building blocks of global extremist movements.”
“It is high time for us to recognize that Saudi Arabia is a deeply flawed ally and that our priorities in this relationship have long been skewed in ways which, I argue, are not to the benefit of the United States. United States in the long run, ”Murphy said.
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers had urged the Trump administration to boycott the G20, seeing it as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to rename itself without significant reforms.
Instead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit in person hours after the virtual summit.
Safa al-Ahmad, acting director of Saudi rights group ALQST, said the kingdom’s outreach efforts, such as inviting Western musicians, were aimed entirely at improving its public image abroad without reform in his country.
“There is a limit to the Saudi government’s hypocrisy and gasping. The reality is very, very different from what the government continues to demand.”