London: Thirty-six countries have signed an open letter criticising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, media reported.
The letter, read on Thursday at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is the first collective rebuke of the kingdom.
It urges Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists jailed for “exercising their fundamental freedoms” and to “disclose all information available” about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I call upon Saudi Arabia to ensure that all members of the public including human rights defenders and journalists can freely and fully exercise their right to freedom of expression and association including online and without fear of reprisals,” Iceland’s ambassador Harald Aspelund said during the session in Geneva.
He called for the release of women rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul, Hatoon al-Fassi and Samar Badawi and others jailed after campaigning for human rights in the country, CNN reported.
Last week, Saudi Arabia announced that prosecutors were preparing a case against a number of the detainees for “undermining the security and sovereignty of the Kingdom.”
Reading from the letter, Ambassador Aspelund said “investigations into the killing (of Jamal Khashoggi) must be independent and transparent.”
The collective rebuke was signed by all countries in the European Union, as well as Iceland, Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Montenegro.
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Riyadh has maintained that neither bin Salman nor his father, King Salman, knew of the operation to target the journalist. Officials have also denied that jailed female activists have been tortured.
The statement to the UN council came as Saudi Arabia appears to be facing renewed international pressure in recent days.
Amnesty International on Wednesday said in a statement that the moment had come for states to take a stand against the kingdom’s violation of rights.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “This initiative at the UN Human Rights Council offers a rare opportunity for states to take a strong public stand against the catalog of human rights violations by the government of Saudi Arabia.
“States who stay silent risk abdicating responsibility at a crucial moment and sending a dangerous message that Saudi Arabia can continue to commit egregious abuses without being held to account,” Morayef said.
Earlier in the day, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had slammed Saudi Arabia over the “apparently arbitrary arrest and detention” of the women rights defenders.
Bachelet said: “The persecution of peaceful activists would clearly contradict the spirit of the country’s proclaimed new reforms. We urge that these women be released.”