Rights watchdog accuses G20 of "bolstering" Riyadh's efforts to portray the Arab country as "reforming" despite its "unrelenting assault on freedoms."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Group of 20 member states to press Saudi Arabia to free activists detained unlawfully and provide accountability for past abuses ahead of the virtual G20 summit hosted by the kingdom this month.
"The G20 is bolstering the Saudi government's well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as 'reforming' despite a significant increase in repression since 2017," said Michael Page, HRW deputy Middle East director on Monday.
HRW, based in New York, said in a statement that the G20 presidency conferred an "undeserved mark of international prestige" on the government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite its "unrelenting assault on freedoms."
As the current chair of the G20 major economies, Riyadh has tried to repair its image after global outrage at the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its Istanbul consulate, detention of women's rights activists, and the Yemen war.
#G20 countries can make a difference and play a significant role in convincing #SaudiArabia to halt its human rights abuses. https://t.co/6HlBs0DHbz— Birgit Schwarz (@BirgitMSchwarz) November 9, 2020
Tweet at G20 leaders to hold their hosts accountable on human rights. #G20SaudiArabia @hrw https://t.co/p86VE3N2Cz pic.twitter.com/TLzdpZK7ML
Flogging, sexual assault in detentions
Launching the #G20SaudiArabia campaign, HRW called for the unconditional release of Saudi human rights activists, including female activists Loujain al Hathloul, Nassima al Sadah, and Nouf Abdulaziz as well as blogger Raif Badawi, journalist Salah Haidar and rights lawyer Walid Abu al Khair.
Rights group say some of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.
Hosting the #G20 confers an undeserved mark of prestige on Saudi Arabia. G20 leaders including @ScottMorrisonMP @MarisePayne should not let Saudi off the hook for its jailing of rights activists & leading role in war crimes in Yemen. #G20RiyadhSummit https://t.co/afoMjozNle pic.twitter.com/BlzTQj2LtU— Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) November 9, 2020
Demand for new Khashoggi murder probe
Saudi authorities have not responded to requests for comment on calls by rights groups for G20 member states to pressure the kingdom on its human rights record.
Officials have in the past denied torture allegations and said the arrests were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests.
Few charges have been made public.
HRW also demanded Riyadh allow United Nations experts access to assess attacks on civilians in Yemen, and an independent, international body to investigate Khashoggi's murder and review Saudi court documents.
Riyadh has jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years in the case. Prince Mohammed had denied ordering Khashoggi's killing but in 2019 acknowledged some personal accountability by saying it happened on his watch.