The United States has told Saudi Arabia to release political prisoners as part of a shift towards improving human rights.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press briefing on Friday, 5 February: “We, of course, expect Saudi Arabia to improve its record on human rights. That includes releasing political prisoners such as women’s rights advocates from Saudi jails,”
The development comes after previous pledges by the new administration of Joe Biden that he would re-examine the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, which has been historically close – especially under the regime of Donald Trump.
The announcement came on the day after the temporary release of two Saudi Americans, who had been imprisoned after more than 300 days of detention on “terrorism-related” charges – a common allegation used by the regime against dissidents.
The two men, Bader al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haider, are still expected to stand trial in the Specialised Criminal Court on 8 March.
Their release was welcomed by Psaki during the briefing.
Bethany al-Haidari, from the Freedom Initiative human rights group, said in a statement: “This is welcomed progress, even though it is long overdue.”
She added: “Bader al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haider should have never been jailed in the first place and their release should certainly not be on a ‘temporary’ basis.”
These developments follow President Biden’s refusal to assist Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, which has led to what the United Nations has called a humanitarian crisis.
This means that US military hardware will no longer be exported to the Saudi regime for use in the conflict.
Biden said the Saudi-led war in Yemen had “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”.
However, the Saudi-US relationship is stronger than it might appear. Saudi Arabia is still a key US ally against their shared enemy, Iran. The US State Department told Associated Press: “The United States will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align and will not shy away from defending US interests and values where they do not.”
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