CFI Criticizes Saudi Arabia’s Hypocrisy on Religious Freedom at UN Human Rights Council

For Immediate Release: March 17, 2015
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785

At the UN Human Rights Council today, the Center for Inquiry slammed the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia’s plans to host a key international human rights conference, calling on the country to free its prisoners of conscience and protect the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression. 

Last week at the Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Slimane Chickh, announced that Saudi Arabia would host the next conference in the Istanbul Process, which is focused on implementing the Council’s Resolution 16/18, a measure intended to combat religious intolerance. 

At the same time, Saudi Arabia persecutes, imprisons, and abuses political and religious dissidents such as activist Mohammed al-Bajadi, human rights lawyer Waleed abu al-Khair, and blogger Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes for hosting an online discussion forum, and may also be executed for apostasy. It also bars women from exercising their fundamental conscience rights, and jails those who do.

“One assumes Saudi authorities will not arrange for diplomats and NGOs to pay these political prisoners a visit,” said CFI’s Michael De Dora at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council, of which Saudi Arabia is a member. “The rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression remain nearly non-existent in Saudi Arabia … [It] has a lengthy record of punishing any individual or community that differs from the government’s narrow version of authoritarian Islamic law.”

The Saudi delegation witnessed De Dora’s address from inside the Council chamber.

De Dora, CFI’s chief representative to the United Nations, highlighted the paradoxical circumstance of a nation with an abysmal human rights record, and with no tolerance for dissent of any kind, hosting a conference on combating religious intolerance, ostensibly dedicated to upholding those rights. De Dora suggested that Saudi Arabia take steps to “validate its role as host of the next meeting in the Istanbul Process” by releasing its prisoners of conscience and pursuing human rights reform.

“We welcome, indeed encourage member state involvement in the Istanbul Process,” said De Dora. “However, given its human rights record, Saudi Arabia strikes us as an inappropriate setting for the next meeting. If Saudi Arabia is sincere about acting as host of the next meeting, it could begin to validate its role rather easily: release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, drop all charges against them, and move to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression. We urge them to do so, and urge member states to keep them accountable.”

CFI has repeatedly spoken out on behalf of those persecuted by Saudi Arabia at the UN Human Rights Council, and on one such occasion this past July, the Saudi delegation tried unsuccessfully to shout down a CFI spokesperson (video here:

Today’s statement can be read in full here: Video of the statement will be available shortly.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at