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Biden team calls on Saudi Arabia to release political prisoners

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,”

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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.

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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.”

Read More: Trial of Saudi scholar Salman al-Awdah postponed

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