UN rights experts denounced Wednesday the pending execution of three members of a Saudi tribe, reportedly in connection with their opposition to a planned Red Sea megacity.
Three members of the Huwaitat tribe, which inhabits the desert area in northwestern Saudi Arabia where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s US$500-billion futuristic megacity is under construction, face the “imminent risk of execution”, more than a dozen independent experts warned.
“Despite being charged with terrorism, they were reportedly arrested for resisting forced evictions in the name of the Neom project and the construction of a 170-kilometre linear city called The Line,” they said in a statement.
The three men – Shadly Ahmad Mahmoud Abou Taqiqa al-Huwaiti, Ibrahim Salih Ahmad Abou Khalil al-Huwaiti and Atallah Moussa Mohammed al-Huwaiti – were reportedly sentenced to death last August 5 and their sentences were upheld on appeal on January 23, the statement said.
“Under international law, states that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing,” the experts said.
“We do not believe the actions in question meet this threshold,” said the UN experts in areas including the right to adequate housing, freedom of opinion, arbitrary executions and torture.
According to their statement, three other members of the Huwaitat tribe were also sentenced to between 27 and 50 years in prison.
The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but do not speak on behalf of the UN, lamented that all six had been charged under an “overly vague” 2017 anti-terrorism law.
They also demanded that Saudi authorities investigate allegations that some of the detainees had been tortured to extract confessions, and to review their sentences.
“Any statement that is proven to have been made as a result of torture is inadmissible in any proceedings,” they said.
The experts also raised concerns about the Neom project as a whole amid accusations from rights groups of serious abuses being committed.
Saudi authorities are allegedly illegally displacing Huwaitat tribe members from their homes in three villages, often without adequate compensation, and violently cracking down on those who peacefully oppose or resist eviction.
In 2020, a Huwaitat tribe member was gunned down after he refused to give up his land for the project.
“These actions would certainly amount to forced evictions, which are prohibited under international law as a violation of the right to adequate housing,” the experts said.
“The actions also constitute flagrant violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”
Any companies, including foreign investors, involved in the project should “ensure they are not causing or contributing … serious human rights abuses”, the experts said.