Saudi rights group to study claims of sectarian prejudices in society



“We are on our way to study this topic and it will be discussed and brought up at the HRC,” said Muhammad Al-Khunaizi. The HRC official made his comments after meeting a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom at HRC headquarters in Riyadh. The US rights body, headed by Felice Gaer, is on its first visit to the Kingdom.

Al-Khunaizi said that members of the delegation had informed the HRC that they had met several people from the Eastern Province who complained of prejudice. “They brought up the topic after meeting residents in the Eastern Province, who told them that they did not receive the same rights as other religious sects do,” Al-Khunaizi told reporters.

The official said Saudi laws do not differentiate between citizens of various backgrounds. “This is an Islamic and a national principle. Saudi Arabia does not distinguish between anyone whatsoever,” he said.

Dr. Zaid Al-Hussein, another HRC official, agreed with his colleague’s statements, adding that the delegation was informed of recent speeches by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who stressed the importance of nationalism and warned of the consequences of tribalism and the concept of distinguishing one section of the community over another.

“We explained to them what is going on in the Kingdom right now. We are Muslims at the end of the day no matter how different we are,” he said.

The Human Rights Commission, headed by Turki Al-Sudairi, was established by royal decree in 2004.

According to HRC officials, the US rights body inquired about various issues in the Kingdom including violations by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. “Our stance regarding the commission is balanced. We listen to all parties. We are not in a position to justify the mistakes committed by government bodies,” said Al-Hussein, adding that the HRC’s mission was to reach the truth.

The official said that after the American delegation had brought up the topic of the virtue commission, they were briefed on how it works. “It was mentioned to them that nobody is above the law. And that includes people who work in government bodies,” he added.

Another topic discussed by the HRC and the US rights body concerned the practice of religious rights in the Kingdom. According to the HRC officials, the American delegation brought up the topic of non-Muslims practicing their religion in secrecy and in public. “It is difficult to compare Saudi Arabia, which has a massive immigrant population, with any other country of the world. They should understand this difference,” said Al-Hussein.

Al-Khunazi said the delegation was informed that the Kingdom does not object to non-Muslims practicing their religion indoors.

Regarding women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the HRC officials said the delegation was told there were now laws that prevent women from practicing their rights in the Kingdom. “The traditions, customs and lifestyles of people are what get into the way of women practicing certain rights and not the system of Islam. … Islam has honored women and given them more rights than what they enjoy in the West,” he said.

This is the second international rights body to visit the Kingdom since last year. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) visited the Kingdom in November and is expected to return this month in a second official visit. The HRW was also given access to prisons in Riyadh during their visit.



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