At a side event of the UN’s 43rd Human Rights Council hosted by the human rights organization ALQST, Areej al-Sadhan spoke of her experience with Saudi Arabia’s enforced disappearances. Her brother, Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, was kidnapped by the government 2 years ago. Below is a transcript of the speech she gave at this event on March 4th.
“This month marks 2 years since my brother was detained, or rather kidnapped, from his work at the Red Crescent office in Riyadh and disappeared ever since. For 2 years, me and my family have been living in distress not knowing where my brother has gone; and our fears and stress got worse after the increasing reports of human rights violations in the kingdom, especially after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, wondering everyday if my brother is still alive or not. We lived through this for 23 months until few weeks ago when my brother was finally allowed a one-minute call and he spoke briefly to my family in Riyadh to assure us he’s alive.
For the 1st time in two years, tears of happiness.
It felt like we finally can breathe.
During these two years I received threats and messages of intimidation, even rumors insisting that my brother among few others who disappeared were killed under torture. Unfortunately, many people took that as a fact, which made our pain a lot worse, but I never gave up on my brother and will never well. I knew in my heart he is still alive.
I knew he’s not ok, and I knew he’s suffering, but he is alive.
Enforced disappearances unfortunately have become a systematic practice in Saudi Arabia. My brother Abdulrahman is only one of many who suffered disappearances. Some for few months, like several women rights activists, others for years, like my brother Abdulrahman who’s a humanitarian worker, and 2 journalists — Marwan Al-Muraisy who was disappeared for one year, and another Journalist Turki Al-Jasser, who was detained around the same time as my brother and disappeared for almost 2 years. No doubt their families and many others have lived through similar hell as we did.
Their kidnappings and disappearances is not only hurting them and our families but also sending a chilling message to all humanitarian aid communities and journalists organizations that their workers are not safe and their organizations are not respected.
International human rights standards state that no arrest can be made without a legal basis and that defendants cannot be held without being brought promptly before a judge.
And clearly nowhere, in any human rights law, permits enforced disappearances or depriving detainees from calls or visitation by their families.
There is no justification for detaining anyone without a warrant and holding them incommunicado, depriving them any communication or legal rights just over tweets or peaceful opinions!
While the west uses social media to promote free speech and bring the world closer together, Saudi is misusing these tools to intimidate people, restrict free speech, to hack and hunt down critics, then imprison and torture them. So far three American companies have been affected, as a result of Saudi attempts to crack down on freedom of speech.
What message does that send to these tech companies?
Would they want to invest in a country that doesn’t share their values?
Saudi officials keep denying practicing any torture; if that was true then why do they practice enforced disappearance? Why do they deprive detainees from their legal rights, such as family visitations or assigning a lawyer? Enforced disappearance is just another form of torture, not only to the detainees but also to their families.
Saudi trolls keep telling me that I’m making a mistake by talking, and silence is the only solution. How would silence fix anything?
In civilized societies, when there is a problem you call it out and talk about it to find solutions. If you stay silent then that means you’re either ignorant or you don’t care about your country or your organization.
For a full year, before speaking out, we sent endless letters & faxes, we knocked endless doors, we reached out to every possible Saudi organization and personnel, but all our efforts were to no avail.
We submitted pages after pages to the Saudi Human right Commission and other Saudi agencies, but to our surprise they have done NOTHING!
Apparently, we’re not the only ones. It appears other families have suffered the same.
So, what is really the purpose of the Human right Commission in Saudi?
Is it there to protect human rights, or just a cover up for abuses?
Saudi is spending ton of money on PR campaigns to improve its image. But the world is not blind. Human rights record in Saudi will only improve by taking real visible action, starting with freeing peaceful critics and activists, and by having more tolerance towards free speech; especially now that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to the world.
As G20 is approaching, it will be a smart and important step to correct these human right abuses beforehand.
Releasing all peaceful critics and human right activists and compensating them for all the damages they suffered as a result of their imprisonments will sure have a huge impact on improving Saudi Arabia’s image, more than spending any crazy amounts of money on shallow PR campaigns.
We’re here, talking about these issues because we care about human rights.
We talk because we care about Saudi Arabia, and we talk because morally it’s not correct to stay silent.
Princess Reema Al-Saud has mentioned in a recent interview that Saudi Arabia like any other country is not perfect, and she’s right! No country is perfect, and no one is perfect, but there are those who strive to be better, and that’s why we talk and raise these issues — because we want Saudi Arabia to be better.
Two years is a sentence by itself, and for no crime!
We and other families have suffered greatly, and I hope Saudi officials and leaders have the compassion to put themselves in our place and understand where we come from.
Rest assured that I’m not going to stop until my brother is free and back among his family. I ask human right organizations and world leaders to take a serious stand against such human right abuses, as I don’t wish anyone to go through what we are going through.”
Source: HRC43 – Side Event Speech
Speaker: Areej al-Sadhan, sister of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a detained humanitarian worker in Saudi Arabia.
Watch a video of the speech here: https://www.pscp.tv/ALQST_En/1YqJDEOWObwxV