Thu May 4, 2017 6:14PM
Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), speaks during a press conference held in Riyadh on May 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), speaks during a press conference held in Riyadh on May 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A United Nations expert says Saudi Arabia should urgently review its definition of a 2014 counter-terrorism law, which is being used to prosecute non-violent journalists and peaceful human rights campaigners in the kingdom. 

Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said on Thursday that the controversial law contained an "unacceptably broad definition" of the crime and did not comply with international rights standards.

"I strongly condemn the use of counter-terrorism legislation and penal sanctions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression," religion, or association, Emmerson stressed.

Emmerson, who reports to the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC), also demanded that Saudi regime create an independent review mechanism to examine cases of people jailed for exercising such rights, and to “commute or pardon all such prisoners with immediate effect."

The UN official, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, noted that he had given the Riyadh regime a list of nine "priority cases," which a UN group said had been arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to free speech and peaceful association.

"I am profoundly concerned" that they remain in detention, Emmerson said. 

The list reportedly includes Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Walid Abulkhair, whose detentions have sparked an international uproar and anger. 

Elsewhere in his remarks, Emmerson stated that he had sought to interview people detained for expressing non-violent views, but "the government was unable to give access."

The UK-based international rights group Amnesty International has already described the law, which allows heavy-handed crackdown against rights activism, as the kingdom’s new tool to crush peaceful expression.

Ensaf Haidar holds a picture of her husband Raif Badawi next to European Parliament President Martin Schulz after accepting the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize on behalf of her husband, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 16, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

The anti-terror law comes as the kingdom has also stepped up security measures in the Shia-majority Eastern Province, which has seen numerous protest rallies against religious persecution.

Demonstrations intensified in the province after the January 2016 execution by the regime of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Several rights groups have strongly denounced Riyadh’s relentless crackdown on human rights campaigners in the kingdom.

In early February, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Saudi Arabia had stepped up the politically-motivated arrests, prosecution, and convictions of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners since the beginning of the current year.

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