[JURIST] Saudi Arabian rights activists on Saturday said that authorities had arrested Suad al-Shamari, a prominent women’s rights advocate, for insulting Islam. The arrest, they said, was part of an effort to eliminate dissent [AFP report]. Suad al-Shamari is a founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, a liberal human rights group. Last month, in a reference to religious or tribal leaders, Shamari posted on Twitter that she had been called “immoral and an infidel” for her criticisms of “their sheiks.” Another founder of the rights group, Raef Badawi, was sentenced [Al Jazeera report] to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, a conviction upheld by an appellate court in September. His wife said Friday on Twitter that Shamari is in Jeddah prison for the same charge. One of the activists reporting her arrest, who wished to remain unnamed, stated that this charge is commonly used against those who work to defend human rights.
Saudi Arabia’s justice system has drawn international criticism in recent years, especially with regard to its high number of executions. In October Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] eleased a report stating that Saudi Arabia is persecuting rights activists [JURIST report] and silencing government critics. Earlier that month two experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In July then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern [JURIST report] over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In February JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch argued [JURIST op-ed] that a new Saudi Arabian terrorism law was a vague, catch-all document that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way. Also in February AI criticized [JURIST report] the Saudi Arabian counterterrorism law on the basis that the law will deepen existing patterns of human rights violations and will be used to crack down on peaceful dissent.