Saudi Arabia accused of using executions as political weapon against Shia minority

Saudi authorities say the offences were committed in the Qatif region of the oil-rich Eastern Province of the country.

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But Amnesty International has accused the Saudi government of carrying out a “systematic crackdown” which has seen “virtually all independent human rights activists and other critics silenced, prosecuted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms or forced to flee the country”.

A report this year by human rights organisation Reprieve found that 41 per cent of those executed in Saudi Arabia in 2017 were killed for non-violent acts such as attending political protests.

Human Rights Watch says it’s concerned with the lack of due process, the possibility that individuals are tortured into giving confessions and prosecutors’ inability to provide any other corroborating evidence.

The area where ‘politics is made’ 

Many of the kingdom’s Shia Muslim minority live in the Eastern Province, where they fear marginalisation by the Sunni monarchy.

“It’s a very serious conflict that has got very scant international attention,” Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch, told SBS World News.

“Essentially pitched battles over the past month-and-a-half between Saudi security forces and armed militants who have holed up in the historic neighbourhood in the town of Awamiya (in Qatif region) and are resisting the Kingdom’s stated intention to demolish the historical neighbourhood.”

Map of Saudi Arabia showing Eastern Province regionSBS

According to Ali Al-Ahmed, a former political prisoner in Saudi Arabia who now heads the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington DC, “if you compare it to the rest of Saudi Arabia, it has always been a place where politics have been made”.

“Movements from communist to pan-Arabist, to Islamist, to liberal movements have been born there, and activists from there dominate the country’s political opposition historically. So this is an area which has given the Saudi monarchy a big headache for many years.”

Historic and cultural heritage threatened

Earlier this year, the UN urged Saudi Arabia to halt forced evictions and demolitions of the historic Al-Masora neighbourhood in Awamiya.

History is being demolished by #Saudi in#Awamia, #Qatif. #awamiasiege #awamiasiege2017 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/XBiV63BP1W

— Angry Qatifi (@AngryQatifi) June 8, 2017

“The Saudi government, as part of its long term policy is to destroy local culture and to target societies,” Mr Al-Ahmed said.

“And what they have done is in order to humiliate the birthplace of the protest movement in the Eastern Province, they wanted to destroy its culture.”

He links ‘targetted’ executions to the Kingdom’s quest to establish its legitimacy in the country’s eastern region of Qatib.

“All of them are protestors. Most of them their only crime is to protest or to write slogans on the walls or to raise the word in Arabic ‘Death to Al-Saud’, or ‘Down to Al-Saud’.

“That is a very, very sensitive and huge embarrasment to the Saudi monarchy… and that’s why Sheikh Al-Nimr was executed because he dared to speak in public inside Saudi Arabia about the Saudi Royal family by name.”

Execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

The execution of 57-year-old Saudi Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, and 47 others in January 2016 prompted widespread international condemnation.

A Shiite cleric from Saudi’s Eastern Province, he was a well-known figure at anti-government demonstrations, often criticising Saudi rulers for their treatment of the kingdom’s Shiite minority.

But he was arrested by authorities in 2012, a year after a wave of popular uprisings began to take effect in parts of the Middle East, and sentenced to death in 2014.

Rare footage of #SheikhNimr participating in peaceful protests. #HumanRightsDefender #HumanRights#SaveThe7 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/gJXVTfLYI8

— Zena (@Zena__E) December 19, 2015

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the time said the Australian government was “deeply disturbed” by his execution.

“The Australian government supports the universal abolition of the death penalty and we are deeply disturbed by the recent executions carried out in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Mr Al-Ahmed says that for young people, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr became an icon. However, there’s a ‘different direction’ now.

“The young people have a different direction or projection than the previous generation in terms of what they are trying to achieve. Before there was the goal of obtaining basic human rights.

“I think now it’s a much higher level in terms of attaining and capturing greater political rights. It’s no longer an issue of human rights. It is an issue of politics and either regime change or replacement or severe reform.”

International pressure

Reprieve director Maya Foa is calling governments, including Australia, to make it clear to the Saudi Royal Family and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman that they do not support the execution of citizens, including juveniles, for attending peaceful protests.

“Silence is effectively condoning this behaviour, and could very quickly turn into complicity,” she told SBS World News,

Saudi Shiite women hold placards bearing a portrait of Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in the eastern coastal city of Qatif, January 2016.Getty

Crown Prince urged to act on human rights

Amnesty International is calling on Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to use his new authority as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince to “match his words with actions and demonstrate his commitment to human rights”.

It quotes an article Mohammed bin Salman gave to the ‘Economist’ magazine earlier this year in which he spoke of the Kingdom’s values.

“It is important to us, the participation in decision making; it is important to us to have our freedom of expression; it is important to us to have human rights,” he said.

Tigers aim to bare claws in AFL after loss

Richmond badly need Damien Hardwick’s flawless AFL record against Brisbane to last at least one more game.

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The Lions are the only team yet to beat the Tigers since Hardwick took over as coach in 2010.

Sixth-placed Richmond will start overwhelming favourites on Sunday at Etihad Stadium against the bottom side.

But recent events will have long-suffering Tigers fans nervous.

Richmond were appalling last week against St Kilda, falling as much as 95 points behind before going down by 67.

And the last time the Lions visited Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago, they plunged Essendon into crisis with one of the upset wins of the season.

It showcased some rich potential at Brisbane, who will welcome back No.2 draft pick Josh Schache for his first senior game since round eight.

In Schache and Eric Hipwood, the Lions have the makings of a key forward pairing that could terrorise opposition defences for the next decade.

At Richmond, Hardwick went old-school in the wake of the St Kilda loss and ordering mouthguards at training.

Contested ball has been the focus heading into Sunday’s game.

“We were beaten up around the ball, which is unlike us, and St Kilda took it up to us in the contested nature of the game – and we faltered,” Hardwick said.

“That (was) the first thing we addressed in our review this week and the thing we’re looking to rectify (against Brisbane).”

Richmond and Brisbane reacted to last week’s heavy losses – Geelong mauled Lions by 85 points – with a combined seven axings.

Anthony Miles, a contested-ball specialist, returns for the Tigers.

Nick Vlastuin, Nathan Broad and Ivan Soldo are also back, while Sam Lloyd, Taylor Hunt, Connor Menadue and Tyson Stengle were dropped.

The Lions also recalled Ben Keays and Cedric Cox for Matthew Hammelmann, Rohan Bewick and Archie Smith.

China’s late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo cremated

The body of China’s late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was cremated on Saturday after a private ceremony attended by his wife and friends, two days after the dissident lost a battle with cancer while in custody.

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Liu’s body was cremated “in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs” in the northeastern city of Shenyang, said Zhang Qingyang, an official from the municipal office.

Officials released photos showing his wife, the poet Liu Xia, with her brother, Liu Xiaobo’s brother and friends in front of the body surrounded by white flowers at a funeral home. 

China’s government has come under international criticism over its treatment of the democracy advocate and his wife, who has been under house arrest since 2010, with calls for Beijing to release her and let her travel abroad.

“As far as I know, Liu Xia is in a free condition,” Zhang said, though it was unclear whether she was released.

At the funeral, Mozart’s Requiem was played and Liu Xia “fixed her eyes on him a long time, mumbling to say farewell,” Zhang said, adding that she was “in very low spirits”.

Authorities have severely restricted Liu Xia’s contact with the outside world.

“She has just lost her husband, so she is currently emotionally grieving,” Zhang said. 

“It’s best for her not to receive too much outside interference during this period after Liu Xiaobo has died, during this period of dealing with the funeral. This is the family’s wish, as well as natural and normal.”

China had ignored international pleas to let Liu Xiaobo get treatment abroad before he died of multiple organ failure at a Shenyang hospital on Thursday at age 61, more than a month after he was transferred from prison due to late-stage liver cancer.

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The foreign ministry lashed out at the criticism on Friday, saying it lodged official protests with the United States, Germany, France and the United Nations human rights office.

Zhang said authorities would release information about where Liu Xiaobo’s ashes will be taken “at an appropriate time”.

Jared Genser, a US lawyer who represented Liu Xiaobo, said Liu Xia has been held “incommunicado” since his death. She has never been charged with any crime, he said.

“The world needs to mobilise to rescue her – and fast,” he said in a statement.

Liu was jailed in 2008 after co-writing a petition calling for democratic reforms. The veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “subversion” a year later. 

Alleged people-smuggler arrives in Australia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo sanctioned the extradition after Australia’s Federal Police charged Ahmad Zia Alizadah with 10 people-smuggling offences.

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Ahmad Zia Alizadah was marched through Perth airport after his extradition from Indonesia.

He’s alleged to have taken between US $4,000 and US$10,000 from each asylum-seeker, for journeys on boats intercepted by Australian authorities between February and May 2010.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton told the ABC the extradition is a message to other would-be people-smugglers.

“That’s a very important part of our messaging out to the region, to indicate to people who might be inclined to accept these payments to conduct these illegal activities, that people will face the full force of the Australian law.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Immigation Minister Peter Dutton, and Justice Minister Michael Keenan have released a joint statement.

It says, in part:

“People smuggling is a crime with global dimensions that can only be tackled through hard work and cooperation with our international partners. The illegal maritime pathway to Australia is closed, and it will remain closed. It has been more than 1,000 days since a successful people-smuggling venture reached Australia.”

Mr Alizadah is the ninth person to be extradited from Indonesia over people-smuggling since 2008.

Mr Dutton defended the length of time taken for Mr Alizadah to be sent to Australia.

“Extradition proceedings always take time. Both countries need to be satisfied in terms of the process, and they need to make sure it can withstand legal challenge. Obviously there’s information and intelligence exchanges that take place between the two partners and that would have contributed to the delay.

Mr Alizadah appeared briefly in court but charges weren’t read.

The need for a Farsi or Bahasa Indonesia interpreter forcing the case’s adjournment to next week.

Ahmad Zia Alizadah will remain in custody, with prosecutors indicating any bail application would be strongly opposed.

 

Government plans to force tech services to decrypt messages

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the internet is now a place where terrorists, paedophiles and drug traffickers can hide in the dark.

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He says they’re using social media and encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp to communicate, and his government plans to tackle the issue in parliament.

“Internet companies, like the telcos at the moment, will have the obligation to assist the police with getting access to communications and information and data they are lawfully entitled to in accordance with an appropriate warrant or court order.”

The laws will be modelled on a system in place in the United Kingdom, giving police and security agencies greater access to encrypted messages.

Unlike so-called “backdoor” access, in which developers deliberately insert known flaws that can provide a way in, the government is after lawful permission to read messages when appropriate.

Attorney-General George Brandis says it’s about making sure technology advances don’t leave the law behind.

“We intend to work with the companies in order to address what is potentially the greatest degradation of intelligence and law enforcement capability that we have seen in our lifetimes.”

Mr Turnbull was quick to claim credit on discussions about encrypted technology at the G20 Leaders summit in Germany.

“What the G20 agreed at our initiative, at Australia’s initiative, is that we need to say with one voice to Silicon Valley and its emulators: ‘All right, you’ve devised these great platforms, now you’ve got to help us to ensure that the rule of law prevails and that they’re not exploited by those who want to hide from the law as they plan to do us harm.'”

The Prime Minister’s special adviser on cyber-security, Alastair MacGibbon, says the law change will go unnoticed by many Australians.

“To the average person on the street there’s no impact whatsover, just like the average person on the street has never had police execute a search warrant on their house, and the average person on the street has never had their telephone intercepted. We’re talking about police and domestic security agencies who go about their business in a very focused way trying to weed out criminals and terrorists and others that would do us harm. A very very small percentage of our population.”

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has told Channel Nine his party will be examining the law change closely.

“We’ll look at any legislation with the same approach that we’ve had to all of this, which is a commonsense approach that we must keep Australians safe and governments have that responsibility, and we should have a bipartisan approach but we’ll look at the detail when it comes forward.”

Social media giant Facebook has already announced it will resist the push for it to decrypt messages and hand them over to law enforcement.

The America-based company says it already does all it can to assist.