The Saudi ambassador to the HRC, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, was quietly appointed to the position in June but the appointment only came to light today. It has enraged human rights defenders and international human rights organizations worldwide.
“This appointment is grotesque,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk. “It is outrageous that the UN is allowing Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s biggest human rights violators, to chair this panel.
“Saudi Arabia is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. How could anyone image Riyadh making a significant contribution to the fight against human rights violations throughout the world?”
The Saudi kingdom’s human rights record is disastrous. There are no independent media. Journalists and bloggers who dare to stray from the official line are tried and given long jail terms, especially under the many draconian cyber-crime and anti-terrorism laws. Listed as an ‘Enemy of the Internet', Saudi Arabia has been cracking down harder and harder on online activity since the Arab spring of 2011.
Two professional journalists and seven citizen-journalists are currently detained arbitrarily. Reporters Without Borders and eight other international NGOs sent a joint letter to the Saudi authorities in July calling for the release of Saudi human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience, including Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Fawzan Al-Harbi, one of the founders of the Arabian Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA).
There has been no reply to the letter, the text of which was released on 1 September.