Saudi Arabia, the first Arab country to host the G20 summit this weekend, is facing criticism over its human rights record despite reforms introduced in recent years to improve the conservative monarchy’s image.
Human rights activists and relatives of imprisoned activists have urged world leaders to boycott the summit or pressure the kingdom’s rulers to release prisoners of conscience, Al-Khaleej Today reported.
In April 2016 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, announced Vision 2030, a strategic framework to diversify the country’s economy, reduce its dependence on oil and develop public service sectors such as health, education, recreation and tourism.
One of the first and most prominent reforms was introduced in August 2019 which allowed women over the age of 21 to obtain a passport and travel abroad without receiving a male relative’s approval.
However, human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, say the decision is incomplete since the kingdom has not yet abolished the “absenteeism rule”, a legal provision used to ban women from leaving the home without permission.
In April this year, the Saudi Human Rights Commission said the kingdom would end the death penalty for minors and replace it with a prison term of up to ten years in a juvenile detention centre.
While human rights activists hailed the decision in a country with one of the highest execution rates in the world, Reprieve – a rights charity focused on death penalty – highlighted the case of Muhammad Al-Faraj who faces the death penalty for participating in demonstrations when he was a young boy.
According to the rights watchdog, Al-Faraj who was only 15 when he was arrested in Medina in 2017.
With the W20 Women’s Summit also set to take place in Riyadh concurrently with the G20, Human Rights Watch (HRW) blasted the kingdom for what it described as blatant hypocrisy. While supposedly promoting equality and women’s empowerment, argued HRW, it has jailed women’s rights activists and, it is alleged, abused them.