Saudi Arabia: Detained economist faces show trial while journalist disappears at Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as persecution of critics continues


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned about the show trial of prominent economist Essam Al-Zamel, an entrepreneur known for his writing about the need for economic reform, as well as the news that Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi has disappeared in Istanbul after entering the Saudi Consulate.

The Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) held a secret session on 01 October 2018 during which the Public Prosecution charged Al-Zamel (pictured right) under the Anti-terror Law and the Anti Cyber Crime Law, demanding what it called “severe penalties” against him. The charges include allegations that he is a member of a terrorist organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood), “inciting and sowing sedition in society,” and inciting protests against Saudi’s rulers. Al-Zamel has criticised Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s economic plan (Vision 2030), including plans for the national oil company, on social media, where he had a large following of almost 1 million followers. He has been charged with violating the Anti Cyber Crime Law by “mobilising his followers on social media,” according to Saudi newspaper “Al-Riyadh”, as well as communicating with Qatar.

The SCC was set up in January 2008 to try terrorism cases but has mostly been used to prosecute human rights defenders and critics of the government.

Al-Zamel was arrested on 12 September 2017 at the same time as many other rights defenders and reformists, and has been held since then in solitary confinement according to “The Independent” newspaper, which also reported that he was in bad shape. For more information on the arrest in 2017, see:

Khashoggi (pictured left), a Saudi journalist, columnist and author, has also been known to criticise the reform plans of the Crown Prince at a time when many human rights defenders have been arrested. He is a contributor to the “Washington Post” and is internationally respected for his contributions to “Al-Watan” newspaper which became a platform for Saudi progressives. He has also contributed to the BBC and is the former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel, which was launched in Bahrain in 2015 but immediately shut down.

On 02 October 2018 at 1pm, Khashoggi, who lives in exile in the United States, went to the Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey with his fiancée to complete some paperwork. But he never exited the Consulate to the knowledge of his fiancée and his whereabouts were unknown as of Wednesday evening. The Consulate denied that they were holding him and said he had left, but his disappearance set off alarm bells in the international media and among press freedom groups.

Kashoggi left Saudi Arabia in 2017 as arrests of journalists, human rights defenders and activists began to escalate. Over a dozen journalist are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia as well as around 100 human rights defenders, and possibly thousands of activists. Many of those detained had publicly criticised reform plans related to Vision 2030 noting that women won’t achieve economic equality merely by driving.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against economist Essam Al-Zamel and allow him to carry out his work freely;
  2. Provide information about the whereabouts of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi and ensure that he is free to leave the Saudi Consulate, and does not remain in Saudi custody;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisal.

The GCHR respectfully reminds the authorities in Saudi Arabia that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”