Saudi Arabian authorities have released three female activists who were jailed last year after campaigning to lift the driving ban and dismantle restrictive guardianship laws, several human rights organizations and news outlets report. Conditions of the women’s release remain unknown and initial reports indicate it is temporary as their trials continue to move through the criminal court. Human rights group ALQST announced the women’s release over Twitter, adding that authorities had issued “promises that the others will be released on Sunday 31 March.”
Italy’s famed La Scala opera house has decided to return three million euros ($3.4m) in investment funding to Saudi Arabia after a plan to work closely with the kingdom was widely criticized by rights groups and the government. The proposed deal, which would have included giving a seat on the La Scala board to Saudi Arabia’s Culture Minister Badr bin Abdullah, came under fire earlier this month in light of the country’s human rights record. The kingdom is under increased global scrutiny since the killing of a Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul last October and the plight of a Saudi woman who turned to social media to help escape alleged family abuse.
The head of the state-backed Saudi human rights commission dismissed an international investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as interference on Thursday, and said everyone accused was already facing justice in the kingdom. Three dozen Western countries, including all 28 European Union members, called on the kingdom last week to cooperate with a U.N.-led investigation. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, provoking an international outcry.
Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday accused Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince of going “full gangster” and urged the Trump administration’s nominee for ambassador to Riyadh to hold the country accountable for human rights abuses. The comments by Rubio (R-Fla.) drew agreement from others on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and underscored the ongoing bipartisan frustration among U.S. lawmakers with the oil-rich Arab kingdom. The ambassadorial nominee, retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, stressed that the U.S. relationship with the Saudis was bigger than the crown prince, and that the best way to change conditions in the Arab kingdom was through engagement.
Saudi Arabia had “absolutely nothing to do” with the National Enquirer’s reporting on an extramarital relationship involving Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs said. Bezos on Thursday accused American Media Inc (AMI), the Enquirer’s owner, of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to his girlfriend unless he said in public that the U.S. tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated. He also referenced media reports about alleged links between AMI and Saudi Arabia.
A U.N. human rights expert said Thursday that Saudi Arabia undermined Turkey’s efforts to investigate the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which she described as a “brutal and premeditated killing” planned and carried out by Saudi officials. Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made her assessment Thursday after visiting Turkey. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His remains have not been found.
An 18-year-old woman detained in Thailand after fleeing her family in Saudi Arabia and renouncing Islam will not be sent back to the Middle East against her wishes, Thai officials have said. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun barricaded herself inside a transit zone hotel room in Bangkok airport to prevent immigration officials putting her on a flight to Kuwait. Qunun says she would be killed if she was returned to Saudi Arabia and has vowed not to leave the hotel room until she can see representatives from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
Saudi prosecutors sought the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday as their trial began in Riyadh, Saudi Press Agency reported. The trial comes three months after the Washington Post columnist and Saudi royal family insider-turned-critic was killed and allegedly dismembered at the consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh has maintained that neither bin Salman nor King Salman knew of the operation to target Khashoggi.
Netflix faced criticism Wednesday from human rights groups for pulling an episode in Saudi Arabia of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” series that criticized the kingdom’s powerful crown prince. The American comedian used his second episode, released Oct. 28, to criticize Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen. Human rights group Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Netflix is “further proof of a relentless crackdown on freedom of expression.”
Saudi Arabia called US resolutions to end military aid for a coalition in Yemen and to blame the kingdom’s crown prince for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi ‘interference’ based on ‘untrue allegations.’ Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Sunday that his government is seeking to leave a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.