Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites

June 13, 2010

June 12, 2010

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.

The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refuelling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An airstrike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest.

Passing over Iraq would require at least tacit agreement to the raid from Washington. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to give its approval as it pursues a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Military analysts say Israel has held back only because of this failure to secure consensus from America and Arab states. Military analysts doubt that an airstrike alone would be sufficient to knock out the key nuclear facilities, which are heavily fortified and deep underground or within mountains. However, if the latest sanctions prove ineffective the pressure from the Israelis on Washington to approve military action will intensify. Iran vowed to continue enriching uranium after the UN Security Council imposed its toughest sanctions yet in an effort to halt the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, which Tehran claims is intended for civil energy purposes only. President Ahmadinejad has described the UN resolution as “a used handkerchief, which should be thrown in the dustbin”.

Israeli officials refused to comment yesterday on details for a raid on Iran, which the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to rule out. Questioned on the option of a Saudi flight path for Israeli bombers, Aharaon Zeevi Farkash, who headed military intelligence until 2006 and has been involved in war games simulating a strike on Iran, said: “I know that Saudi Arabia is even more afraid than Israel of an Iranian nuclear capacity.”

In 2007 Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a suspected nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial — and better-defended — nuclear sites.

Israeli intelligence experts say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are at least as worried as themselves and the West about an Iranian nuclear arsenal.Israel has sent missile-class warships and at least one submarine capable of launching a nuclear warhead through the Suez Canal for deployment in the Red Sea within the past year, as both a warning to Iran and in anticipation of a possible strike. Israeli newspapers reported last year that high-ranking officials, including the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have met their Saudi Arabian counterparts to discuss the Iranian issue. It was also reported that Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, met Saudi intelligence officials last year to gain assurances that Riyadh would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets violating Saudi airspace during the bombing run. Both governments have denied the reports.

After woman’s alleged beating, who polices the religious police, Saudis ask

April 21, 2010

Wael Mahdi, Foreign Correspondent, The National, April 19, 2010

JEDDAH // A woman who asked for a lift to a provincial bus station so she could rejoin her family in Jeddah says she was arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police, who accused her of being a runaway, and that they searched her clothes, tied her up with a rope and beat her.

Local police responded to complaints of screaming coming from the building that houses the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (known as Hai’a) in the northern province of Tabuk.

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Yemen: Another US Battleground?

January 13, 2010

by Stephen Zunes,, Jan 12, 2010

The United States may be on the verge of involvement in yet another counterinsurgency war which, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, may make a bad situation even worse. The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by a Nigerian man was apparently planned in Yemen. There were alleged ties between the perpetrator of the Ft. Hood massacre and a radical Yemeni cleric, and an ongoing U.S.-backed Yemeni military offensive against al-Qaeda have all focused U.S. attention on that country.

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The ‘virtual slaves’ of the Gulf states

November 16, 2009

The recession has worsened the plight of Asian workers in UAE and elsewhere. Their rights are only slowly being addressed

Nesrine Malik, The Guardian/UK, Nov. 16, 2009

The exploitation of migrant workers in the Gulf states has been worrying human rights groups for some time but now the recession is making their predicament even worse.

Usually employed in a semi-formal manner with large companies, Asian workers in United Arab Emirates fall within a vacuum of employment law and social welfare and hence become the first casualties of a recession. Usually indebted to their agents or “sponsors”, ie those who have purchased visas on their behalf, and bereft of passports or identification documents confiscated by their employers, they now inhabit a “grey economy”.

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Saudi Arabia – countering terrorism with repression

September 11, 2009

Amnesty International, September 11, 2009

A Saudi special forces soldier stands guard at a check point, 5 February 2005, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi special forces soldier stands guard at a check point, 5 February 2005, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

© AP/PA Photo/Amr Nabil

Since the September 11 attacks in the USA eight years ago, the Saudi Arabian authorities have launched a sustained assault on human rights in the name of countering terrorism. The attacks were carried out by a group that included Saudi Arabian nationals.

“The anti-terrorism measures introduced since 2001 have set back the process of limited human rights reform in Saudi Arabia,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Combined with severe repression of all forms of dissent and a weak human rights framework, there is now an almost complete lack of protection of freedoms and rights.”

An Amnesty International briefing paper, launched on Friday, describes the shocking scale of abuses. Thousands of people have had their lives devastated by violations of their basic rights. Some have been arrested and detained in virtual secrecy, while others have been killed in uncertain circumstances.

Hundreds more people face secret and summary trials and possible execution. Many are reported to have been tortured in order to extract confessions or as punishment after conviction.

Since Amnesty International’s July 2009 report, Saudi Arabia: Assaulting Human Rights in the Name of Counter-Terrorism, the government has announced that 330 people have been tried on terrorism charges in recent months, virtually all of whom were convicted in closed trials, with sentences ranging from fines to the death penalty. However, they have not disclosed their names or details of the charges, maintaining the extreme secrecy of the trial process.

Of the thousands detained by the authorities, some are prisoners of conscience, targeted for their peaceful criticism of government policies. The majority are suspected supporters of Islamist groups or factions opposed to the Saudi Arabian government’s close links to the USA and other Western countries.

Such groups have carried out a number of attacks targeting Westerners and others, and are officially dubbed as “misguided”. The detainees also include people forcibly returned from Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

“The abuses take place behind a wall of secrecy. Detainees are held with no idea of what is going to happen to them,” said Malcolm Smart.

“Most are held incommunicado for years without trial, and are denied access to lawyers and the courts to challenge the legality of their detention. This has a devastating effect on both the individuals who are detained and on their families.”

Case studies

Abdul Rahim al-Mirbati, a 48-year-old Bahraini businessman, was arrested in 2003 or 2004 in Madina. His family say he had travelled to Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment for his 13-year-old son.

During three months of detention in al-Ruwais Prison in Jeddah, he was denied visits and is reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Following a series of transfers, he is currently held in al-Dammam Central Prison.

Although he is said to have been accused of planning to carry out bombings in Bahrain, his relatives are not aware of any charges brought against him. They have contacted various authorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to seek clarification of his legal status but to no avail.

Jordanian national Muzhir Mustafa Abdul Rahim Shkour, 44, was arrested in August 2007 on the border between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He was held in incommunicado detention for four months before he was allowed a telephone call to his family and was subsequently allowed visits. He continues to be held without charge or trial, like many others in al-Dammam Central Prison.

Saudi Arabia: Counterterrorism Efforts Violate Rights

August 10, 2009

Indefinite Detention, Inappropriate Reeducation, and Flawed Trials

Human Rights Watch, August 10, 2009

Saudi Arabia’s response to terrorism for years has been to lock up thousands of suspects and throw away the key. The authorities made believe that religious counseling could replace trials, and now they are pretending that convictions after secret trials can legitimize continued detention.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Saudi Arabia has detained indefinitely more than 9,000 people under its counterterrorism program since 2003, offering many religious “reeducation” instead of judicial review to attain their freedom Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. Saudi Arabia only moved in October 2008 to try some detainees, announcing in July 2009 that it had convicted more than 300 on terrorism charges, in trials the report says were secret and unfair.

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Saudi rights abuses rise due to counter-terrorism methods

July 24, 2009

Middle East Online, First Published 2009-07-22

Saudi used its ‘powerful international clout’ to get away with abuses

Amnesty International: thousands detained in virtual secrecy under guise of security in Saudi.

LONDON – Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia have soared as a result of counter-terrorism measures introduced since the 2001 attacks in the United States, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

The London-based rights organisation warned in a new report that under the guise of national security, thousands of people had been arrested and detained in virtual secrecy  and others had been killed in “uncertain circumstances”.

There have long been human rights problems in the kingdom but Amnesty said the number of people being held arbitrarily, including both Saudi nationals and foreigners, “has risen from hundreds to thousands since 2001”.

“These unjust anti-terrorism measures have made an already dire human rights situation worse,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme.

Amnesty noted that in June 2007, the Saudi interior ministry reported that 9,000 security suspects had been detained between 2003 and 2007 and that 3,106 of these were still being held.

Some of those held are prisoners of conscience, targeted for their criticism of government policies, the report said.

The majority are suspected of supporting groups that are opposed to Saudi Arabia’s close links to the United States and have carried out a number of attacks targeting Westerners and others.

Amnesty said trials of people suspected of terrorism offences are carried out in secret, despite sentences ranging from fines to the death penalty. The names of those involved or the charges against them are not disclosed.

“Detainees are held with no idea of what is going to happen to them,” Smart said. “Most are held incommunicado for years without trial, and are denied access to lawyers and the courts to challenge the legality of their detention.”

The Saudi authorities were not immediately available for comment, but the country’s top human rights official said last month that suspected militants being tried in special courts were allowed lawyers to help their defence.

“They can choose a lawyer… or the ministry of justice will provide one,” said Bandar al-Aiban, president of the official Saudi Human Rights Commission.

He said he regretted that the trials were being kept secret but said the government was worried some defendants would use a public trial as a soapbox to preach radical ideology. “We have to be mindful of other dangers,” he said.

Amnesty accused the international community of failing to hold the Saudi government to account over the alleged violations, saying the kingdom “has used its powerful international clout to get away with it”.

The group also reported that many people were thought to have been tortured “in order to extract confessions or as punishment after conviction”.

Methods include severe beatings by sticks, suspension from the ceiling and the use of electric shocks and sleep deprivation, while “flogging is also imposed as a legal punishment by itself or in addition to imprisonment”.

Saudi Arabia’s war on human rights

July 22, 2009

We should not ignore the human rights abuses committed by Saudi Arabia’s justice system in the name of security

Two weeks ago today the Saudi Arabian authorities announced that 331 defendants had been found guilty of terrorism offences in 179 separate cases. You would have thought that such a sequence of trials and convictions would be major news. It isn’t. Aside from a limited burst of publicity following the Saudi Justice Ministry’s announcement, the whole affair is shrouded in deepest secrecy.

Who are those that make up this vast number of people? What are their offences? Are they all Saudis, or are their foreigners amongst them? Do our own security forces know anything about the cases?

One person who might know something is Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s veteran interior minister. He has been the country’s politician in charge of national security for a stunning 34 years (making our home secretaries seem like political mayflies). He’s the man who announced last October that 991 people had been charged with suspected involvement in terrorism. Back in 2007, he said that Saudi Arabia had detained more than 9,000 security suspects since 2001. Of these, 3,106 were still in custody at that time.

Beyond the sporadic announcement of mind-boggling numbers and the occasional well-constructed journalistic tour of a “re-education” facility, the Saudi system is buried in secrecy. What we do know is that it is characterised by appalling human rights violations: arbitrary arrest, torture, unfair trials, flogging and execution. At Amnesty International, we also believe the situation is getting worse.

In a report just published, we highlight some of the human rights violations perpetrated by Saudi Arabia’s authorities in the name of security and fighting terrorism. Some of the detail is shocking, not least for the residents of al-Jouf who awoke one morning in 2005 to see on public display the bodies of three men who had been executed and then crucified. Majed Nasser al-Shummari and Mislat al-Mutayri were arrested in 2002-3 and respectively sentenced to three years and two years plus flogging. They’re still in jail today. Non-violent critics of the government have been caught in the net, along with lawyers and human rights defenders.

But should our own government care? Every now and then the FCO does express broad concern about human rights in Saudi Arabia. It’s difficult to feel that this is an agenda item at top-level discussions and the Saudi government has proven adept at using its geopolitical position and oil wealth to deflect criticism. But there are a number of reasons why it’s important to consider a more outspoken approach.

First, Britons can find themselves caught up this. For example, a group of British men including William Sampson endured sleep deprivation and torture before being hauled in front of TV cameras in 2001 to “confess” their crimes. This followed a series of bomb attacks and shootings that the authorities unconvincingly attributed to turf wars between western bootleggers.

Second, in the current circumstances, any secret information shared with the UK by Saudi general intelligence or other agencies is potentially tainted as torture evidence. The situation also makes it virtually impossible to safely deport any critic of Saudi Arabia back to the country, given the fundamental concerns about torture and lack of due process. Third, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is just plain wrong – and our government should acknowledge this in plain terms.

There’s also a new reason for the FCO to look again at things in the Saudi kingdom. If Britain didn’t open its eyes to Saudi injustice during the fake bootlegging affair, it ought to now. It is continuing to negotiate with the US government over the release from Guantánamo Bay of a Saudi national called Shaker Aamer. He’s a long-standing UK resident, with a young British family in south London. If the government fails to secure his release back to these shores, he may find himself swallowed up in Saudi Arabia’s secretive and unaccountable justice system.

Saudi Arabia has genuine security issues to confront. Scores of its own civilians have been killed in bombings and shootings by armed groups. Fifteen of the 9/11 attackers were from the kingdom. Responding to these threats is necessary, but by failing to respond within a framework of human rights, the Saudi Arabian detention system is another side of the same degraded counter-terrorism coin as the Guantánamo detention facility in which Shaker Aamer continues to reside.

How Not to Support Democracy in the Middle East

June 10, 2009

Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, June 8, 2009

President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo to the Muslim world marked a welcome departure from the Bush administration’s confrontational approach. Yet many Arabs and Muslims have expressed frustration that he failed to use this opportunity to call on the autocratic Saudi and Egyptian leaders with whom he had visited on his Middle Eastern trip to end their repression and open up their corrupt and tightly controlled political systems.

Imagine the positive reaction Obama would have received throughout the Arab and Islamic world if, instead of simply expressing eloquent but vague words in support of freedom and democracy, he had said something like this:

“Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.”

Could he have said such a thing?

Yes. In fact, those were his exact words when, as an Illinois state senator, he gave a speech at a major anti-war rally in Chicago on October 2, 2002.

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Saudi Shiites’ One-Word Demand

March 30, 2009

Rannie Amiri | Counterpunch, March 27 – 29, 2009

“Our dignity is more valuable than the unity of this land … If we don’t get our dignity, then we will have to consider seceding from this country.”

– Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, Saudi Shia religious leader from Al-Awamiya, currently in hiding after having delivered a speech demanding an end to the oppression of Saudi Shiites.

In 2005, the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report entitled “The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia.” The Executive Summary recounted that since the establishment of Saudi Arabia in 1932, “… its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement.” It detailed how Shiites, the majority in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province (EP) and accounting for approximately 15-20 percent of the overall population, remained strikingly underrepresented throughout all segments of civil society, including government (in which they essentially have no representation), the public sector, schools, the judiciary, the military and police.

The expression of anti-Shia sentiment in the educational system and limits placed on religious practices were specifically highlighted as problem areas (Shia Islam is not allowed to be taught in schools, only Wahhabism; thus Shiite students must officially identify themselves as ‘heretics’ and ‘infidels’ in order to pass exams).

The ICG made several recommendations in their report including:

  • expanding Shiite presence in government institutions
  • lifting remaining restrictions on Shiite religious rituals and practices
  • encouraging tolerance, eliminating anti-Shiism in mosques and schools, and curbing statements that incite anti-Shiite violence

There was relative calm between the Saudi government and the Shia after King Fahd in 1993 made token promises of easing political restrictions in exchange for the community building closer ties with the regime instead of looking abroad for support and assistance.

The ICG warned though that “King Abdullah needs to act resolutely to improve the lot of the two-million strong Shiite community and rein in domestic expressions of anti-Shiite hostility” or it will be “… a quiet that, without further concrete progress, risks exhausting itself.”

And exhausted itself it has.

With little improvement made, and after the recent violent clashes in the holy city of Medina this past February between Shia pilgrims and the Religious Police (who were found filming female pilgrims), that quiet has officially ended.

Although you would not know it by reading or listening to any of the mainstream Arab media outlets, a violent crackdown is underway in the cities of Al-Awamiya and Qatif in the EP.

On March 13, Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, a leading Shiite cleric from Awamiya, said during Friday prayers that unless the systemic discrimination and oppression of Saudi Shiites at the hands of the political and religious establishments ends, they would consider seceding from the Kingdom. In a subsequent internet posting he is reported to have said, “Our dignity is being held, and if it’s not let free, we will examine other options, and any legitimate option will be examined. We saw with our own eyes how the dissension forces beat up women [in Medina]. Where’s the dignity? Where’s the justice?” (Press TV, 22 March 2009).

Saudi Interior Minister Nayyef Ibn Abdul Aziz, visiting the ailing Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Prince Sultan in New York, immediately ordered his arrest.

Since then, events have turned ugly in both Awamiya and Qatif (where most of the pilgrims involved in the Medina skirmish came from). Despite the Arab media blackout, Saudi dissident and opposition websites such as and, as well as the Saudi Information Agency, have reported on the ensuing clampdown in the hunt for Al-Nimr. By report, the cities’ residents have conducted only peaceful protests and vigils.

Multiple arrests have been made, including juveniles and an American citizen, Nuh Abdul-Jabber, 28. Saudi security forces stormed Awamiya again on March 25, cutting off power to the town of 45,000 for the third time in 10 days. The US State Dept., apparently in deference to the monarchy, has yet to comment on these developments.

Not so Amnesty International, who deplored the detention of men and teenagers by the Saudi authorities whom they believe are at grave risk for torture. Held incommunicado, they called for their immediate and unconditional release.

But why should anyone outside the Middle East be concerned about these events?

Awamiya is located just five miles from Ras Tanurah, the world’s largest offshore oil facility and home to Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company (any talk of unrest, yet alone secession, is therefore quickly silenced).

Beyond that, according basic political, socioeconomic, cultural and religious rights to all citizens of Saudi Arabia, free from discrimination and oppression, should be everyone’s concern on a purely humanitarian level. Indeed, while the entire Kingdom was silent during Israel’s attack on Gaza, it was only the people of Al-Qatif—clearly recognizing and identifying with another people subjected to injustice and humiliation—who held demonstrations in support of the besieged Palestinians.

Their demand and those of Shiites in other towns and cities in Saudi Arabia is a most basic and simple one. It is a demand the government can easily grant and one they should hasten to accept. It was written on the signs of those protesting in Awamiya, was encapsulated in a single word in Sheikh Al-Nimr’s speech, and has become the newfound rallying cry of the Shia-minority in Saudi Arabia: Dignity.

Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.

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