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SAUDI ARABIA: Raif Badawi is still in prison over several blog posts

By Gayle MANCHIN Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Nadine MAENZA Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

 

Time (28.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/2QG30Ge – For years, successive U.S. administrations have given Saudi Arabia a free pass to harass, arrest and even execute those who do not accept the government’s official interpretation of Hanbali Sunni Islam. One such case is peaceful blogger Raif Badawi, who is serving a 10-year sentence for a series of blog posts calling for freedom of religion or belief in the kingdom.

Despite years of international concern over the case, Badawi remains in prison. The Biden Administration is recalibrating the U.S.-Saudi relationship and has indicated that human rights will be at the center of its foreign-policy objectives. As such, it should react forcefully to the ongoing persecution of Badawi and other religious dissidents in Saudi Arabia, including applying the new Khashoggi visa bans where applicable.

Badawi is not the only one who has faced severe violations of his religious freedom. Recently freed activist Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 following peaceful advocacy against religious guardianship laws. She was allegedly subjected to torture in prison, pressured to sign a false confession and remains under a travel and media ban. Shi’a Sheikh Mohammed bin Hassan al-Habib remains in prison after calling for greater rights for Shi’a Muslims. Poet Ashraf Fayadh is also still in jail on an eight-year sentence for allegedly questioning religion and spreading atheist thought.

Even among these egregious cases, Badawi’s stands out. Sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 whip lashes, Badawi has been refused access to crucial medicine, thrown in solitary confinement and denied contact with his family. In January 2015, he was given 50 whip lashes publicly outside a mosque in Jeddah.

The Saudi government’s continued detention of Badawi is a test case for the Biden Administration’s willingness to use the new “Khashoggi Ban,” which allows the State Department to deny U.S. visas to those who “suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work.” The Saudi government’s disregard for these serious American concerns destabilizes the U.S.-Saudi relationship. It also undermines ongoing social and economic reform efforts initiated by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the last few years.

Giving the Saudi government a free pass to violate freedom of religion or belief without consequences is not a sustainable U.S. policy. The future of our relationship must be premised on respect for and protection of internationally recognized human rights and the political inclusion of dissidents who might otherwise adopt more radical positions. An inclusive vision for Saudi Arabia’s future would no doubt hasten a recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19 and spur greater international business investment in the kingdom.

As such, the Biden Administration should disrupt this concerning trend of impunity in three ways. First, it should lift the waiver on sanctions to which Saudi Arabia would otherwise be subjected as a designated Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom violations. Second, it should hold accountable high-level Saudi officials directly responsible for egregious religious freedom violations using the Khashoggi Ban and Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Finally, President Joe Biden and Secretary Antony Blinken should call publicly for Saudi Arabia, during this month of Ramadan, to grant clemency to Raif Badawi, and cease persecuting peaceful dissidents on spurious legal charges.

Photo : Ryan Rodrick Beiler—Alamy Stock Photo





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FRANCE: Paris protesters march against deadly domestic violence towards women

By Angela Charlton and Thibault Camus

 

TIME (23.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2DhnRW8 – Several thousand protesters marched through Paris on Saturday to demand a national wake-up call and more government investment to prevent deadly domestic violence against women, a problem that President Emmanuel Macron calls “France’s shame.”

 

A wave of purple flags and signs snaked from the Place de la Republique through eastern Paris amid an unprecedented public campaign to decry violence against women — and honor the 130 women that activists say have been killed in France this year by a current or former partner. That’s about one every two or three days.

 

While France has a progressive reputation and pushes for women’s rights around the world, it has among the highest rates in Europe of domestic violence, in part because of poor police response to reports of abuse. Many of the women killed this year had previously sought help from police.

 

At Saturday’s march, French film and TV stars joined abuse victims and activists calling for an end to “femicide.” Many held banners reading “Sick of Rape.”

 

The protest came on the U.N.’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and is aimed at pressuring the French government before it unveils new measures Monday to tackle the problem.

 

The measures are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence and prioritizing police training so they won’t brush off women’s complaints as a private affair.

 

Some of Saturday’s marchers want 1 billion euros in government investment, though the funding is expected to fall far short of that.

 

French activists have stepped up efforts this year to call attention to the problem, with an unusual campaign of gluing posters around Paris and other cities every time another woman is killed. The posters honor the women, and call for action. They also hold protests, lying down on the pavement to represent the slain women.

 

A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French respondents said they been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.

 

That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women. But it’s above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.

 

Half that number reported experiencing such abuse in Spain, which implemented a series of legal and educational measures in 2004 that slashed its domestic violence rates.

 

Conversations about domestic violence have also ratcheted up in neighboring Germany, where activists are demanding that the term “femicide” be used to describe such killings.

 

In France, lawyers and victims’ advocates say they’re encouraged by the new national conversation, which they say marks a departure from decades of denial. Women aren’t the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.


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