On December 3rd, a month before Saudi Arabia carried out it largest mass execution since 1980 — subsequently setting the region on fire — Arjun Sethi wrote an article for Al-Jazeera titled: Saudi Arabia Uses Terrorism As An Excuse for Human Rights Abuses. According to Cora Currier at the Intercept:
Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar appear to have blocked the article outside of the United States because it is critical of an ally of Qatar.
Naturally, this makes you want to drop everything and read it. So here are some excerpts courtesy of the Intercept:
Reports emerged last week that Saudi Arabia intends to imminently execute more than 50 people on a single day for alleged terrorist crimes.
All the convictions were obtained through unfair trials marred by human and civil rights violations, including in some cases torture, forced confessions and lack of access to counsel. Each defendant was tried before the Specialized Criminal Court, a counterterrorism tribunal controlled by the Ministry of Interior that has few procedural safeguards and is often used to persecute political dissidents. Lawyers are generally prohibited from counseling their clients during interrogation and have limited participatory rights at trial. Prosecutors aren’t even required to disclose the charges and relevant evidence to defendants.
The problems aren’t just procedural. Saudi law criminalizes dissent and the expression of fundamental civil rights. Under an anti-terrorism law passed in 2014, for example, individuals may be executed for vague acts such as participating in or inciting protests, “contact or correspondence with any groups … or individuals hostile to the kingdom” or “calling for atheist thought.”
One of the defendants, Ali al-Nimr, was convicted of crimes such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations and gathering against the state and repeating some chants against the state.” For these offenses, he has been sentenced to beheading and crucifixion, with his beheaded body to be put on public display as a warning to others.
Because of these procedural and legal abominations, the planned executions for these Shia activists must not proceed. They should be retried in public proceedings and afforded due process protections consistent with international law, which includes a ban on the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18.
This deafening silence is not lost on Saudi Arabia and has emboldened its impunity. In the wake of the Arab uprisings, the kingdom’s brutal campaign against its Shia minority and political opposition has deepened. Shias have limited access to government employment and public education, few rights under the criminal justice system and diminished religious rights. Those who protest this discrimination face arbitrary trial and the prospect of execution for terrorism. Consider that Saudi Arabia has not carried out a mass execution for terrorism-related offenses since 1980, a year after an armed group occupied the Grand Mosque of Mecca.
Despite its appalling human rights record, Saudi Arabia was awarded a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council last year and this summer was selected to oversee an influential committee within the council that appoints officials to report on country-specific and thematic human rights challenges. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia has used its newfound power to thwart an international inquiry into allegations that it committed war crimes in Yemen.
So that’s a great example of how Saudi Arabia blocks the truth within the region. Now let’s look at how it mobilizes its U.S. mercenaries to spew propaganda across mainstream media. From the Intercept:
Saudi Arabia’s well-funded public relations apparatus moved quickly after Saturday’s explosive execution of Shiite political dissident Nimr Al-Nimr to shape how the news is covered in the United States.
The Saudi side of the story is getting a particularly effective boost in the American media through pundits who are quoted justifying the execution, in many cases without a mention of their funding or close affiliation with the Saudi Arabian government.
A Politico article about the rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Nahal Toosi, for instance, quoted only three sources: the State Department, which provided a muted response to the executions; the Saudi government; and Fahad Nazer, identified as a “political analyst with JTG Inc.” Nazer defended the executions, saying that they served as a “message … aimed at Saudi Arabia’s own militants regardless of their sect.”
What Politico did not reveal was that Nazer is himself a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. He is currently a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, a think tank formed last year that discloses that it is fully funded by the Saudi Embassy and the United Arab Emirates.
The Washington Post quoted consultant Theodore Karasik of Gulf State Analytics as saying that the executions were a “powerful message that Saudi Arabia is intent on standing up to its regional rival.” Karasik is a columnist at Al Arabiya, an English-language news organization based in the UAE and owned by Middle East Broadcasting Center, a private news conglomerate that has long been financially backed by members of the Saudi royal family. Its current chairman is Sheikh Waleed bin Ibrahim, a billionaire Saudi businessman whose brother in law was the late King Fahd. (Al Arabiya‘s coverage of the crisis is almost comically pro-Saudi, featuring headlines like “Storming embassies.. Iranian speciality.”)
The U.S. government is obviously not eager to alienate a government that President Obama has wooed with warm words and over $90 billion in arms sales. The diplomatic offensive by Saudi-financed flacks and media has provided some space for it to provide a muted response to the execution.
Yes, you read that right. $90 billion. Make sense considering Saudi Arabia is now the world’s biggest arms importer.