At least 36 countries including all 28 members of the European Union have signed a statement criticising Saudi Arabia’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday, diplomats said.
“It is a success for Europe to be united on this,” an envoy of an EU country told Reuters news agency.
The statement will be the first rebuke of the kingdom since the UN forum was set up in 2006. The text, read out by Harald Aspelund, Iceland’s ambassador to the Geneva talks, called on Saudi authorities to release activists held in Saudi Arabia and to cooperate with a UN-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“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 called on Saudi Arabia to release women activists allegedly tortured in detention after authorities accused them of harming the country’s interests.
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.
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”.
Al Jazeera and news agencies