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   Human Rights Watch Calls on Saudi Government to Make Real Reforms Instead of Mounting a Media Image Campaign


Human Rights Watch Calls on Saudi Government to Make Real Reforms Instead of Mounting a Media Image Campaign

Special to The Chronicle & Sentinel

The organization Human Rights Watch recently called for major reforms to Saudi Arabia’s human rights instead of going forward with that country’s plan to mount a media campaign to improve the its image.

“Continuing restrictions on basic rights in Saudi Arabia are no secret,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “An expensive advertising and marketing blitz is no substitute for meaningful changes in how the government treats its citizens and its 5.5 million migrant workers.”

The advertising campaign, launched on June 9 by the Saudi embassy in Washington, is “designed to help broaden American perceptions of the country and demonstrate the Kingdom's steadfast commitment to fighting the War on Terrorism,” according to Saudi officials.

During a visit to Saudi Arabia in January 2003, Saudi government officials told a Human Rights Watch delegation that reforms were on the way: new procedures in the criminal justice system, restraints on 4,500 state-paid religious police, and the formation of an independent human rights organization. However, no mention of plans to lift the severe restrictions on the rights of women, guarantee religious freedom for Muslims and non-Muslims, or end punitive sanctions on perceived government critics, such as confiscation of passports and dismissal from jobs, was made by government officials.

Human Rights Watch said that the pledged reforms have largely not materialized. On May 27, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of the reformist al-Watan, was summarily dismissed from his post. Journalists at the privately-owned daily said the manager who fired Khashoggi was carrying out a decision of the information ministry, according to an Associated Press report on May 28. In Saudi Arabia, the information ministry controls the hiring and firing of top editors.

Human Rights Watch suggested that, as part of its public relations outreach efforts, the Saudi government show clearly to a US and international audience the steps that are being taken to reform human rights.

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This story was published on July 12, 2003.
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