The gruesome murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi captured the world’s attention. But it’s just a glimpse of the repression that the regime of the Saudi royal family thrives on.
Ameen Nemer is an Arabian human rights activist now living in Britain. He told Socialist Worker how the murder of Khashoggi, “Is not a one-off story.”
“The main difference is that he was a journalist writing for the Washington Post—an American newspaper. He was one of the establishment,” said Ameen.
“He described himself as a critic—not an opponent. All he said was, ‘I want to express my views’.”
But Ameen hopes the case will help to shine a light on the repression inside Saudi Arabia.
“The Khashoggi case means that the world is now talking about Saudi Arabia. But this is not a single story. This is a big part of what is going on in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Most activists—especially the prominent ones—have been through a special criminal court for terrorism.
“There are cases of people who’ve been arrested arbitrarily, have gone through unfair trials without legal representatives, who were tortured.”
Under these conditions, activism in Saudi Arabia is extremely difficult. When the Arab revolutions erupted in 2010 and 2011, a call went out in Saudi Arabia for a “day of rage”.
The regime responded by filling the streets with secret and uniformed police to deter protests.
In a BBC Arabic television news report from March 2011 journalists, watched by police, find no one protesting on the streets of Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh.
A lone activist, Khalid Al-Jahani, tells them, “The people cannot speak freely. We don’t have freedom, we don’t have dignity, we don’t have justice.”
At the end of the film Al-Jahani drives home, followed by a police car. He then went missing—imprisoned for more than a year.
Ameen says that in many cases activists won’t openly talk politics “in order to stay safe”.
Nevertheless there have been movements and resistance—such as by those campaigning for rights for women.
In June this year the Saudi Arabian government lifted the ban on women driving. But, just a month before that, the regime imprisoned more than 15 women’s rights activists.
“I see the arrests as a message from the regime that says allowing women to drive did not come from a point of weakness,” said Ameen
“It’s to say, ‘If we want to do something, it’s because we know what’s good for you. We are better than you, we do things for you. You just have to keep silent. If you struggle to achieve your goals you’re going to end up in prison.’”
Ameen now works to draw attention to the plight of those victimised by the regime—in particular that of activist Israa Al-Ghomgham.
She was arrested for taking part in a demonstration and now faces the death penalty.
But he also criticises the Western governments that prop the Saudi regime up.
“Look at how the US, France and Britain reacted to the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime on civilians.
“The reaction was an attack on Syria. But while Saudis bomb Yemen and blockade it—when they bombed a school bus killing 40 children—they didn’t react that way.
“Why do they have these double standards? Because they support regime change in Syria, while they support Saudi Arabia as a historical, strategic ally.”