PROFOUND CHANGE may someday come to Saudi Arabia. The new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, last year offered a soaring blueprint for modernizing the kingdom, “Vision 2030,” that promised to build “a thriving country in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams, hopes and ambitions.” The document also vowed to build a “tolerant” country with “moderation as its method” that is “a global investment powerhouse” and “an epicenter of trade and the gateway to the world.”
This is a tall order, especially in a kingdom where change has been agonizingly slow. The crown prince clearly wants to move Saudi Arabia toward a future not beholden to oil. But in one important respect Saudi Arabia remains mired in the dark ages: Human rights are trampled upon, and free expression crushed. This is entirely out of sync with ambitions to create a thriving and modern state.
The latest sign of this backwardness is the fate of 14 Saudi men, all from the country’s Shiite minority, who are facing execution for allegedly staging protests in the kingdom. As The Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan reported , the men are charged with terrorism-related offenses, but human rights groups say confessions from the defendants were extracted under torture. Among those condemned to death are Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, who, after attending pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, was arrested at an airport in December 2012 as he was leaving the country to visit the campus of Western Michigan University, which he was thinking of attending. Seventeen years old at the time, he was not given a reason for his arrest and has been in prison ever since, convicted without having access to legal representation, according to human rights activists. In a July 22 statement, Western Michigan faculty and administrators said Mr. Sweikat was “subject to sleep deprivations, beatings, cigarette burns, solitary confinement and others forms of torture or suffering.” He was sentenced to death “on the sole basis of a confession extracted by torture,” they added, citing the findings of the U.N. human rights office.
If only this were an isolated case. Another travesty surrounds the fate of blogger Raif Badawi, who has been jailed since 2012 following his online appeal for a more liberal and secular society. His sentence was 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, of which he has been given 50 lashes. Mr. Badawi’s aspirations were also for a tolerant and moderate Saudi Arabia, but that was a threat to the kingdom’s conservative Islamic establishment. His treatment offers a reason to doubt Crown Prince Salman’s commitment to the goals of “Vision 2030.”
President Trump steered clear of human rights in his May visit to Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom’s horrors have not vanished. If Saudi leaders really want to embrace modernism, they could start by reversing the barbaric death sentences imposed on 14 Shiite men for taking part in demonstrations.
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