10 Members of the European Parliament urged the European Union (EU) to initiate dialogue with Middle Eastern countries regarding the fate of thousands of prisoners and young people who are held for expressing their opinions and calling for reform and change or for simply practicing their work as journalists.
What the Middle East experienced in the last decade can be described as the decade of political prisoners, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, Bahrain to Syria, Iraq to Egypt and Yemen to Lebanon, tens of thousands of political activists, journalists and dissidents are languishing in prisons without committing any crime, except for expressing their views.
According to numerous reports, many of these detainees suffer from poor conditions inside prisons, such as the lack of adequate health care, especially amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of space inside prisons, and the denial of the detainees' simple human rights, such as exercise, reading and clean water.
The situation in Syria can be hardly described because of the severity of its tragedy, as there are tens of thousands of political detainees in prisons, both under the control of Bashar al-Assad's regime or that of opposition factions. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, approximately 14,000 people were killed under torture in the regime's prisons, between March 2011 and September 2020. The network documented more than 72 methods of torture tools and methods practiced by the Syrian regime against political detainees.
In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of political prisoners suffer from difficult humanitarian and health conditions. Last November, the Grant Liberty Foundation reported that nearly 309 political detainees had been subjected to gross violations of their rights, tortured and sexually assaulted, and some had died in prisons, since Prince Muhammad bin Salman became the Crown Prince in mid-2017. There are fears of the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners, from which journalist Saleh Al-Shehi died two months after his release from prison.
These young detainees pay a heavy price for freedom and democracy, and they do so in light of blatant international collusion that trades interests for values, prefers alliance with corrupt authoritarian regimes over cooperation with peoples, and chooses to stand on the wrong side of history, for the sake of short-term interests.
Governments across the region should realize that their suppression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence voices demanding basic economic, social and political rights. MENA governments should ensure the implementation of political rights to allow people to express their economic and social demands, and to hold their governments accountable.
The 10 MEPs called on the EU and MENA governments to:
- Release all political prisoners and youths held over expressing their opinions, including human rights activists and journalists.
- To mark the year 2021 as a year for reconciliation in the MENA region and to allow freedoms including the freedom of the press.
- To end torture and using humiliation as a means of taking revenge against people who express their opinions and call for reforms and change.
- To the urge the governments of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, and other governments in the region that have prisoners over expressing their opinions to release them now.
- To give more space for young people to be part of the public space and to include them in plans that seeks to improve their situation to make sure that they contribute to their communities and don’t feel alienated in their own countries.
- To initiate projects that connect young people in the Middle East with people in Europe that allow them to exchange ideas for a better future for the MENA region.
- MEP Margrete AUKEN.
- MEP Brando BENIFEI.
- MEP Robert BIEDROŃ.
- MEP Radosław SIKORSKI.
- MEP Alex AGIUS SALIBA.
- Bogusław LIBERADZKI.
- MEP Dietmar KÖSTER.
- MEP Fabio Massimo CASTALDO.
- MEP Elżbieta Katarzyna ŁUKACIJEWSKA.
- MEP Karen Melchior.