Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Three detained Saudi writers freed, others still held

Saudi Arabia has released three people swept up in the latest wave of arrests in a crackdown on free expression, London-based Saudi rights group ALQST said on Thursday, but several more remain in detention.

Those freed are banker and publisher Suleiman al-Saikhan, former blogger Fuad al-Farhan, who later started a small business, and Bader al-Rashed, a journalist who had worked on one of the government’s reform initiatives, ALQST tweeted.

Reuters was unable to reach them directly.

The men were among at least eight people taken from their homes earlier this month by plainclothes police. The reason was unclear as they are not considered frontline activists, though some had written previously about the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The Saudi government communications office has not responded to a request for comment on the arrests.

ALQST is an independent non-governmental organisation that monitors and documents human rights violations it says occur in Saudi Arabia at the hands of the authorities.

Riyadh denies having political prisoners, but senior officials have said monitoring of activists, and potentially detaining them, is needed to maintain social stability.

As Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency of the Group of 20 countries, it is struggling to overcome intense international criticism over its human rights record, including last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the arrest of women’s rights activists and the devastating Yemen war.

A verdict in the trial of prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, who was arrested more than two years ago on terrorism-related charges, was postponed on Wednesday for the fourth time, his son said on Twitter.

The public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty against Awdah, who was detained in September 2017 as a crackdown on dissent under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gathered pace. Scores of intellectuals, activists, businessmen and government officials have been arrested.

Public protests, political parties and labour unions are banned in Saudi Arabia, where the media are controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison.”


Ansarullah source voices doubt over Saudi prisoner exchange

The source added, in an interview with Sputnik Arabic news service, “We do not know their identity and whether they are military or had been detained by Riyadh. The coming hours will probably shed more light on the issue.”

He continued, “A delegation from the Committee of prisoners in Sanaa will meet with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the coming hours.”

The source pointed out that the Saudi-led coalition announced the release of the prisoners before the operation took place, or before they delivered any information about them. This is while the coalition failed this week to exchange 135 prisoners from both sides in Taiz (60 from the coalition and 75 from Ansar Allah).

The source confirmed that the coming hours will carry full details on whether the deal was completed or not.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a leader with the Ansar Allah movement, welcomed in a tweet the announcement of the Saudi-led coalition to release 200 Yemeni prisoners, calling on the coalition to release all detainees.

Earlier on Tuesday, the coalition announced through its spokesman, Turki al-Malki, that 200 Yemeni war prisoners had been released as part of the Stockholm Agreement prisoner exchange.


Saudi-led coalition says Yemeni rebels hijacked vessel

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen says Iran-aligned rebels have hijacked a vessel south of the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency quoted coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki as saying Monday that Houthi rebels seized the vessel while it was towing a South Korean drilling rig the previous day.

Al-Malki said the “attack” threatens vital shipping routes in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, used for oil shipments from the Gulf to Europe, as well as goods from Asia to Europe.

A Houthi leader, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted that their forces seized a South Korean vessel in Yemen’s waters and would release it.

The Houthis have in the past targeted oil tankers and military ships belonging to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the coalition fighting in Yemen’s war since 2015.


Three charged in US with spying on Twitter users for Saudi Arabia

Two former Twitter employees and a third man were charged in San Francisco Federal Court on Wednesday with spying on Twitter users critical of the Saudi royal family, the US Justice Department announced.

The two Saudi citizens and one US citizen allegedly worked together to unmask the ownership details behind dissident Twitter accounts on behalf of the government in Riyadh and the royal family, the department said.

According to a court filing, they were guided by an unnamed Saudi official who worked for someone prosecutors designated “Royal Family Member-1,” which The Washington Post reported was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Those charged were Twitter employees Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, along with Ahmed Almutairi, a marketing official with ties to the royal family.

“The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that Saudi agents mined Twitter’s internal systems for personal information about known Saudi critics and thousands of other Twitter users,” said US Attorney David Anderson.

“US law protects US companies from such an unlawful foreign intrusion. We will not allow US companies or US technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of US law,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes as US-Saudi relations continue to suffer strains over the brutal, Riyadh-sanctioned murder one year ago of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for, among others, The Washington Post.

A critic of Crown Prince Mohammed, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

According to the Post, US intelligence has concluded that the prince himself was closely linked to the murder.


International community hails Geneva talks on Syria

Foreign ministers of several countries welcomed the launch of talks in Geneva on Syria’s Constitutional Committee.

Top diplomats of the U.S., U.K., Germany, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia issued a joint statement late Thursday and saluted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen for their efforts on Syria.

“We support efforts to create a safe and neutral environment that enables Syria to hold free and fair elections, under UN supervision,” the statement said, adding the political solution in the war-weary country should be based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

“We recall our statement in New York on September 26 and continue to call for an immediate and genuine nationwide ceasefire in Idlib,” it said, referring to opposition-controlled northwestern Syria.

Structure of Constitutional Committee

The committee is composed of two different bodies. The large body is made up of members from the opposition, regime and civil society whereas the small body includes 45 people responsible for the creation of the new national charter.

The drafts prepared by these 45 members must be approved by the large body, from which it must acquire a “yes” vote from 75% of its 150 members.

Notably, the committee includes two co-chairman.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, over 5 million civilians have become refugees. Turkey hosts 3.6 million of them — more than any country in the world.


Jared Kushner says US partnerships strengthened under Trump

Amid rising economic uncertainty and global trade tensions Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, on Tuesday spoke to the Future Investment Initiative (FII) on how the US will look to define the global agenda in the medium- to long-term.

Kushner featured in a session moderated by the Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of US asset management firm Blackstone, Stephen Schwarzman, at the third edition of the FII held in Riyadh.

Kushner said that he thinks there is “a lot of positive potential” for solving global trade problems, adding that partnerships have strengthened under US President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Trade has been a persistent global challenge throughout 2019 as China and the US have engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war with escalating tariffs.


Saudi Arabia removes foreign, transport ministers

Saudi Arabia’s foreign and transport ministers have been removed Wednesday from their posts by a royal decree, Anadolu Agency reported, quoting local media.

According to the country’s official SPA news agency, Foreign Minister Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf and Transport Minister Nabil bin Mohammed Al-Amoudi were relieved of their posts.

Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah Al-Saud was appointed foreign minister, while Saleh bin Nasser bin Ali Al-Jasser was appointed transport minister.

Al-Saud served as Saudi ambassador to Berlin from February until now, and Al-Jasser served as director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines.


Khamenei tells Iran’s Guards to develop more advanced, modern weapons

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday to develop more advanced and modern weapons, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, amid rising regional tensions, Reuters reports.

“The Guards should have advanced and modern weapons … Your weapons should be modern and updated. It should be developed at home. You need to develop and produce your weapons,” Khamenei said in a speech at Imam Hussein Military University in Tehran.

Tensions in the Gulf have spiked since the United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany publicly blamed Iran for Sept. 14 attacks on the world’s biggest crude oil-processing facility in Saudi Arabia.

“Today the Guards have a powerful presence inside and outside Iran…America’s hostile approach has increased the Guards’ greatness,” Khamenei said.

Iran has denied involvement in the Saudi attacks, which were claimed by Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen.

The United States plans to deploy about 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, including fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing and air defence personnel, amid heightened tensions with the Saudis’ arch-rival Iran.

An already-tense relationship between Iran and the United States has worsened over the past year since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers, saying it did not go far enough, and reimposed sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” policy.

Iranian state television reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Tehran on Sunday as part of efforts to defuse Iranian-Saudi tensions. The two adversaries are locked in several proxy wars in the Middle East.

Khan’s visit, during which he will meet Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, unfolded weeks after Khan said Trump had asked him for help in reducing tensions with Iran. Khan is expected to visit Riyadh for a conference on Oct. 29.

Ahead of Khan’s visit, Iran’s foreign ministry said Tehran was prepared to hold talks with Saudi Arabia with or without the help of a mediator.

In response to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually reduced its commitments under the nuclear pact and plans further breaches if European parties fail to keep their promises to shield Iran’s economy from US penalties.


One year since Khashoggi’s murder MBS says he was responsible

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman says Jamal Khashoggi was murdered on his watch so he is responsible. This comes almost a year after the Saudi journalist’s brutal murder. The incident sparked international outcry and eventually a UN investigation was launched but there are still many questions surrounding his death and the crown prince is at the heart of all the speculation.

The UN investigation launched in June 2019 says evidence suggests Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is liable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the second of October 2018 and was set upon by 15 Saudi intelligence operatives. Audio tapes that the Turkish government later shared with world leaders verify he was drugged and then dismembered. Riyadh insisted the crown prince knew nothing about it.

Riyadh tried to defuse the situation by accusing 11 unknown operatives of the murder and handing five of them death sentences. But according to the UN’s report the suspect’s trial, which was not open to the public and trial observers, was a sham that fell short of international standards. Riyadh disputed that.

A year on Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has finally commented on the murder saying because it happened on his watch, he is responsible. However he still insists it was a rogue operation he did not authorise or know about. In self imposed exile Jamal Khashoggi wrote scathing articles about the Crown Prince and Saudi law. The Kingdom has one of the worst human rights records in the world but it’s western allies have failed to put human rights concerns above petro-dollars and arms sales. Khashoggis remains have not yet been found.


Europe Welcomes New Saudi Tourist Visas

A number of businessmen, media figures and citizens in Europe welcomed Saudi Arabia’s unveiling of its fresh online tourist visa program. This came during a ceremony attended by Saudi Ambassador to Switzerland, Prince Mansour bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz.

“There is no doubt that such a big step is not limited to tourism only, but it opens the door to investment in Saudi Arabia,” the ambassador told Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of an embassy presser.

“Great opportunities are available for investment in tourism, and this supports the realization of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 under the guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz,” he added.

The diplomat stressed that the Saudi people are known for being good and generous hosts to visitors and that this will help tourists get acquainted with the cultural depths of all parts of Saudi Arabia.

He also underscored that the launch of the new tourist visa scheme is an important event in which the Kingdom opens its diverse horizons and ancient heritage treasures to tourists from around the world.

Considered a new step towards achieving the objectives set by the Kingdom’s ambitious development vision, Vision 2030, the new plan holds opportunities for communication among the peoples of the world, building bridges between cultures, and supporting development and economic diversification efforts for the well-being and prosperity of future Saudi generations.

Businessman and international tourism expert Nick Sloane, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, positively reviewed the new plan, saying that Saudi Arabia’s geographic and natural diversity qualifies it to become a global tourism hotspot.

The one-year, multiple-entry visa scheme unveiled late Friday allows for stays of up to 90 days at a time, and marks the first time the country is allowing foreigners to visit solely for the purpose of tourism.