For the first time since the setup of the United Nations Forum in 2006, Saudi Arabia has been criticised by 36 countries and 28 members of the European Union on human rights record in the Kingdom.
The statement signed by the countries and member states on Thursday read out by Harald Aspelund, Iceland’s ambassador to the Geneva talks, called on Saudi authorities to release activists held in Saudi and cooperate with a UN-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi who was a journalist for the Washington Post was killed on October 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“We call on Saudi Arabia to take many full steps to ensure that all matters of the public including human rights defenders and journalists can freely and fully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and association including online and without fear of reprisals,” Aspelund said.
On Wednesday, UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet also called on Saudi Arabia to release women activists allegedly tortured in detention after authorities accused them of harming the country’s interests.
The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, Aziza Al-Yousef, Nassima Al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi, and Shadan al-Anez
The Reuters also reported that some of the women, including those who campaigned for the right to drive, have been subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual assault and other forms of torture, activists say.
However, the Saudi deputy public prosecutor told Saudi-owned newspaper Alsharq Alawsat last week that his office had looked into media reports that the women were tortured and found no evidence, calling the reports “false”
The statement has been commended and hailed as a catalyst for an EU united front.
The joint statement, also backed by Canada and Australia but not the United States.
There has been no immediate Saudi’s reaction.