Saudi Arabia persecutes religious minorities, dissidents, bloggers, and journalists.
The horrific assassination and dismemberment of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents has shocked the community of nations and focused international attention on the brutal authoritarian regime that rules the desert kingdom.
That Khashoggi was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and murdered is yet another example of the House of Saud attempting to apply its laws beyond Saudi Arabia's borders and impose its extremist values on the wider world.
The extra-territorial execution of Khashoggi is deeply troubling, because it means that dissidents and journalists in other countries may be not safe from Saudi assassins. Indeed, the gruesome murder of the journalist is tantamount to state terrorism.
Canada should be especially concerned about the extra-territorial application of Saudi Arabia's barbaric laws, because journalists and dissidents in this country routinely take the Saudi regime to task for its human rights abuses.
Many Canadians are familiar with the case of Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger and dissident, who was arrested by the Saudi regime and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam. After his arrest, the human rights blogger’s family fled to Canada, where they were warmly welcomed and recently granted Canadian citizenship.
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, tirelessly campaigns for her husband’s release, using Twitter to keep his case front and centre in the public consciousness. Ms. Haidar is also a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and of the Islamic fundamentalism promoted by the regime.
Are Ms. Haidar and her children safe from the bloodthirsty Saudi regime? Will the regime attempt to harm them in Canada?
It is time for Canada and the rest of the community of nations to make it clear to the Saudi regime that extra-territorial killings of dissidents and journalists will not be tolerated.
For many years, Saudi Arabia has attempted to silence critics on a much broader stage. Starting in 1999, Saudi Arabia launched successive campaigns at the United Nations to internationalize its blasphemy laws, putting forward non-binding resolutions at the UN to outlaw criticism of religion, especially Islam. Canada and the United States have always voted against such resolutions and should continue to do so, opposing every Saudi attempt to silence free speech.
As the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and the imprisonment of Raif Badawi demonstrate, the Saudi regime does not tolerate diversity of opinion, and that intolerance extends to religion.
Under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of religion, belief and/or conscience is a basic human right that cannot be denied to anyone—regardless of where they live. But Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the Universal Declaration, and it does not feel bound by the human rights covenant. While the regime actively promotes the spread of its fundamentalist brand of Islam around the globe, it refuses to allow non-Muslims and minority sect Muslims to freely exercise their faiths within the fragile kingdom.
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion, belief and/or conscience.
According to a report from Open Doors USA, a human rights organization that advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians around the globe, Saudi Arabia is dangerous place for the followers of Jesus Christ. The report--World Watch List 2018: The 50 countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus—ranks the Muslim-majority country as the 12th most dangerous place in the world for Christians. North Korea tops the list, followed closely by Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan.
“Christian persecution is an ongoing and serious problem in Saudi Arabia,” the Open Doors website alleges. In a nutshell, the kingdom is an Islamic society that demonizes, persecutes, and oppresses anyone who does not follow its radical ways.
Saudi Arabia adheres to Wahhabism, which Open Doors USA describes as “a purist and strict interpretation of Islam.” And the nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports that “public sentiment in the country is generally quite negative, and the government maintains a tightly knit Islamic system that treats Christians as second-class citizens.”
In its annual report for 2018, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designates Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), because the right to religious freedom is systematically denied across the country.
“Saudi Arabia is officially an Islamic state governed by a Basic Law of Governance issued by royal decree in 1992,” states the USCIRF report. This means that the Quran and the sunna—traditions of the Muslim prophet—form Saudi Arabia’s constitution. Moreover, the commission explains that the Saudi judicial system is governed by Islamic or Sharia law “as interpreted by judges trained as religious scholars in the Hanbali Sunni school of jurisprudence.”
The Saudi king is the one who appoints the Shura Council, which is a legislative advisory body. The king has the power to dissolve the council and appoint a new one. “The current monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, took the throne in 2015, and in 2017 appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud as crown prince,” notes the USCIRF report.
Saudi Arabia attempts to impose it strict interpretation of Islam on everyone in the country, including converts to Christianity. “Ordinary citizens pressure converts as well, given that the majority of the population vehemently opposes any faith other than Islam,” Open Doors USA reports.
Open Doors USA ranks Saudi Arabia as the 12th most dangerous country in the world for Christians.
Similarly, USCIRF reports that the Saudi regime restricts religious freedom and denies rights to members of faith groups whose religions are not consistent with those of Sunni Islam. According to the United Nations, approximately 37% of Saudi Arabia’s population is composed of expatriate workers.
The USCIRF document states that “at least two million of these expatriates are non-Muslim, including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, practitioners of folk religions, and the religiously unaffiliated.”
Christian converts who refuse to renounce their Christian faith face mortal danger. According to Open Doors, “apostasy is punishable by death for those who refuse to recant” and return to Islam.
Despite religious persecution and other human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime, USCIRF reports that “an unknown but growing number of Saudi citizens identify as atheists or Christians but avoid public recognition given harsh social and legal consequences for leaving Islam.”
As Christianity quietly takes hold in Saudi Arabia, human rights oppression intensifies. “As the small number of Saudi Christians grows and they become bolder in sharing their faith, the pressure and persecution they face from families and authorities increases,” Open Doors reports.
Rape and sexual harassment
According to Open Doors USA, expatriate Christians compose most of the Christian community in Saudi Arabia. However, they are not free to worship in public. And even gathering in private to worship Christ can be “extremely risky.”
If a foreigner is discovered attending a private worship service, or sharing their faith with a Muslim, they can be locked up or face immediate deportation.
“Saudi Christians from Muslim backgrounds face even greater pressure, and the consequences of discovery are worse,” Open Doors asserts. For example, Saudi Christians face the constant threat of extra-judicial killings.
Open Doors also reports that Christians in Saudi Arabia, whether foreign or Saudi, “risk imprisonment, physical abuse and threats on their lives.” In addition, the human rights group alleges that “the ongoing rape and sexual harassment of Christian women is particularly concerning.”
Even though the House of Saud funds mosque construction around the world, thereby spreading Wahhabism around the globe, Saudi Arabia forbids the construction of churches in the kingdom. For that reason, there is not a single church in Saudi Arabia.
According to the USCIRF report, the Saudi regime “has stated that non-Muslims who are not converts from Islam may practice their religion privately without harassment.” However, the report notes that “the policy allowing private worship has not been codified, and government officials have shown little interest in pursuing codification.”
The commission reports that the regime persecutes Christians and other non-Muslims who worship in private. According to the commission’s report, “in recent years, members of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which enforces government rules on public morality, have raided private non-Muslim religious gatherings organized by expatriate workers and arrested or deported participants, especially when the gatherings were loud or involved large numbers of people or symbols visible from outside the building.”
However, USCIRF notes that “in 2016 the powers of the CPVPV were sharply curtailed by royal decree, and both Muslims and non-Muslims have reported decreased harassment and raids.” But the commission stresses that “non-Muslims seeking to practice their religion privately operate in a climate of fear, especially outside of compounds populated largely by foreign workers.”
For example, expatriate workers who are not Muslim often worship in small numbers and in private to avoid detection by the authorities and/or Muslim neighbours who might report them. In addition, USCIRF reports that “Saudi Christian converts, in particular, report questioning and detention if neighbours or family members suspect their religion.”
Moreover, the regime arbitrarily arrests religious leaders and dissidents. For instance, in Sept. of 2017, more than 20 writers, journalists, academics, and religious leaders were detained by the regime. In response to the arrests, the United Nations issued a statement in Jan. 2018 that noted a pattern of arbitrary arrests for “peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief.”