European Parliament Prize exposes EU inaction on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses

Action against the flogging of the blogger Raif Badawi. ©Henning Schacht/Amnesty International

By cooperating with Saudi Arabia and failing to simultaneously and publicly condemn their human rights’ violations, the EU is essentially giving the green light for abuses to continue.



Brussels – 16 December 2015

Today’s awarding of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Raif Badawi by the European Parliament (EP) shines a clear light on the extent to which the Saudi Arabian authorities have gone to silence bloggers, activists and human rights defenders, including the use of cruel and inhumane punishments, said Amnesty International.

However, the EP’s move stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence of the European Union’s (EU) diplomatic corps, who to date have not only failed to respond to the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, but have yet to call for Raif Badawi’s immediate and unconditional release. Many EU member states have equally cowered from condemning the Saudi Arabian authorities’ blatant disregard for human rights and international law, both within Saudi Arabia and abroad.

“Despite the public outcry both in Europe and around the world over Raif Badawi’s case, concrete action to secure his release has been glaringly absent at the EU and member state level,” said Iverna McGowan Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “There is also a severe lack of EU willingness to robustly defend human rights more generally in their dealings with the Saudi Arabian authorities.”

The EU’s inaction comes despite a huge spike in Saudi Arabia in the use of the death penalty, which violates the right to life, the use of which is prohibited within the EU. Reports suggest that at least 151 people have been executed this year, surpassing the total for 2014. Saudi Arabia’s government has also systematically wiped out all human rights activism in the country in the past three years, some of it under the rubric of “counter-terrorism” legislation in force since February 2014. Raif Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was the first human rights defender to be sentenced under this law.

“There are many different interests seemingly at play when it comes to the EU’s relations with Saudi Arabia, and indeed with all countries in the Gulf. These include energy, trade relations and also counter-terror cooperation,” said Iverna McGowan.

“The EU and many member states cite their desire to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on counter-terrorism as an excuse not to take action, but in reality it’s Saudi Arabia’s problematic counter-terror laws which have led to the imprisonment of many human rights defenders. By cooperating with Saudi Arabia and failing to simultaneously and publicly condemn their human rights’ violations, the EU is essentially giving the green light for abuses to continue.”

Amnesty International is calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to quash Raif Badawi’s conviction and sentence, and to immediately and unconditionally release him and all other prisoners of conscience. Upholding the sentence of flogging is in flagrant defiance of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law.

The EU’s High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini must also table an urgent Foreign Affairs Council discussion (which brings together the 28 EU foreign ministers) to bring about concrete action to ensure the release of Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, and all other human rights defenders currently imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights and defending the rights of others. This can also provide a platform to develop a strategy to better use EU-Saudi Arabia relations for the protection of universal human rights.

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Maeve Patterson on +32 (0)2 548 27 73 or +32 (0)483 680 812, or by email at [email protected] ; or Paul Creeney on +32 (0)2 548 27 74, or by email at [email protected]