1500 people question why Winston Peters hasn’t spoken out against Saudi Arabia as NZ hosts trade talks

13 August 2018, 12:42 UTC | Saudi Arabia
© Amnesty International New Zealand

Today Amnesty International delivered the voices of over 1500 people who took action urging Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, to speak out in support of more than a dozen women in Saudi Arabia who have been unjustly imprisoned for defending human rights. The petition has been up for less than a week. 

Canada spoke out last week – and was met with a heavy-handed response from Saudi Arabia, which severed diplomatic and economic ties with the country. Saudi Arabia then moved to withdraw all 12,000 of its students in Canada, with the intention of transferring them and their families to other English-speaking nations with high-quality universities and “good relations” with Saudi Arabia. New Zealand is on that short list. 

According to media reports Saudi officials were in New Zealand last Friday meeting with New Zealand’s Minister of Trade and Export Growth, David Parker. The reports mention an agreement has been signed by the two countries to “strengthen cooperation”.  

"By not speaking out we run the risk of endorsing Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment of people defending human rights and their continued oppression of women’s rights."

Tony Blackett, Executive Director, Amnesty International New Zealand

Executive Director of Amnesty International New Zealand, Tony Blackett, said, “So far, New Zealand’s silence has been deafening. It would be concerning if our growing trade ties were preventing our Government from joining Canada in condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. By not speaking out we run the risk of endorsing Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment of people defending human rights and their continued oppression of women’s rights.  

“Today, New Zealanders are telling their government to set the record straight.  We must let the world know that New Zealand, like Canada, is calling for women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia to be freed.” 

Despite the recent lifting of the ban on women driving, the Saudi Arabian Government has jailed many of the very women who advocated for lifting the ban, among other fundamental freedoms. Recently, two more prominent women human rights advocates – Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada – were detained. Since May, a number of leading women’s rights activists and campaigners in Saudi Arabia – including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef – have been detained for their peaceful human rights work. Many have been held without charge and may face up to 20 years in prison. Others include women’s rights advocates Nouf Abdulaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani, and people who have previously been persecuted for their human rights work, such as Mohammed al-Bajadi and Khalid al-Omeir. 

“Our national identity is based on fearlessly standing up for values like equality. This is a pivotal moment for New Zealand diplomacy. Either we defend our values, or we quietly endorse blatant human rights violations."

Tony Blackett

“Our national identity is based on fearlessly standing up for values like equality. This is a pivotal moment for New Zealand diplomacy. Either we defend our values, or we quietly endorse blatant human rights violations,” said Blackett. 

Samar Badawi has long advocated for the rights of women to vote and drive, and an end to the country’s male guardianship laws. In 2012 she was presented with an International Women of Courage Award by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. In 2014 she was banned from international travel, and in 2016 she was arrested for her human rights work. She is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes with a cane for setting up a website for public debate.  

Amnesty International continues to call for all human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia to be immediately and unconditionally released, and for an end to the crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. 

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