Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Members of the US Human Rights Watch delegation (HRW) that concluded its mission in Saudi Arabia last week made conflicting statements to the press regarding the way in which Saudi authorities dealt with the delegation during its visits to the country’s prisons and detention centers.
Hassan al-Masri, a member of the delegation, said in remarks that were carried by the local media that Saudi authorities had allowed the delegation to visit Al-Ha’ir prison and speak with the detainees with complete freedom.
In contrast the Executive Director of the HRW Kenneth Roth claimed in a statement posted on the organization’s website, that Saudi “authorities allowed the delegation members to visit only one wing of the prison and prevented them from making a second visit to it.”
The inconsistency between the two statements made by the two HRW officials is evident. Al-Masri said that the delegation’s visit to the prison lasted for five hours, during which they were able to tour all its sections and to speak with the prisoners in private and with total freedom, while their online statement that the Saudi authorities allowed the delegation to visit a small number of prisoners in one single wing, the one that was best maintained.
The Human Rights Watch delegation has ended its Three week visit to Saudi Arabia.
Commenting on the conflicting statements, Maj Gen Dr Ali al-Harithi, director of Saudi prisons, rejected the HRW’s claims that the authorities refused to allow the delegation to visit the prisons and detention centers.
“Naturally we did not prevent them from carrying out their mission,” Al-Harithi told Asharq al-Awsat. “The delegation visited Al-Ha’ir jail on its members’ request. They were able to meet with the detainees in private. They also visited the solitary detention wing.” He added.
Al-Harithi was also disappointed by the delegations refusal to provide his office with their assessment of the Al-Ha’ir jail. “We asked the delegation members to provide us with their impressions they got during their visit to this prison, but they declined.”
Al-Harithi expressed astonishment that the human rights delegation refused to express its opinions openly. He said that he would have liked the persons in charge of the prison to learn from the human rights delegation’s assessment in order to have a discussion between the two sides and learn of their observations.
The director of Saudi prisons explained that his office staff sought to make the Human Rights Watch delegation members feel that the task they were carrying out was a commendable humanitarian action. He remarked: “In this country we are closer to human rights than they are.”
He added that his office has taken note of certain negative aspects in the country’s prisons and corrected them, proceeding from the wish to provide a suitable environment for all prisoners.