Saudi Arabia to execute 3 opponents of Neom project, UN experts warn

Three members of a Saudi Arabian tribe opposed to the kingdom’s Neom megacity project have been sentenced to death, according to over a dozen UN rights experts.

The men are from the Howaitat tribe, which inhabits the desert area in northwestern Saudi Arabia where the futuristic megacity is under construction.

The experts, who advise the UN human rights council, said the three men face the “imminent risk of execution.”

“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 170km 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 on August 5 last year 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.”

‘Forced evictions’

According to their statement, three other members of the Huwaitat tribe were also sentenced to between 27 and 50 years in prison.

The experts 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 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 group is made up of a body of voluntary independent experts who serve the UN human rights system but do not speak on behalf of the bloc, The Guardian reported.

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 shot dead 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.

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