US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has come under fire for boasting about lack of protests against President Donald Trump and his team during their recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
“There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there,” Ross told CNBC on Monday. “Not one guy with a bad placard.”
Ross accompanied Trump as he headed to Saudi Arabia in the first leg of his maiden overseas trip on Saturday.
The high-profile visit coincided with the Riyadh regime’s heavy-handed crackdown in Amawiyah, a besieged town in the kingdom’s Shia-populated Eastern Province.
The city has been under heavy shelling attacks by government forces since May 10, when new clashes erupted following the demolition of the historic al-Mosara neighborhood for a planned development project.
Ross, however, said he saw no signs of unrest during the visit and the country was in “a genuinely good mood.”
Human Rights Watch outraged
Ross’ comments drew a wave of protests from human rights advocacy groups, who had already censured Trump for signing major deals with Saudis notwithstanding their poor rights record.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the lack of protests was no surprise for “anyone who follows the situation in Saudi Arabia.”
“Protesting is a serious offense in Saudi Arabia. It’s been de facto criminalized for many, many years, and specifically criminalized since 2011,” Coogle said.
“The stakes for protesting are extremely high. No one wants to sit in jail for ten years because they protested Trump,” he added.
A 2016 report by the US State Department about “human rights practices” in Saudi Arabia also confirmed Coogle’s point.
The report noted that the Saudi “government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.”
“The most important human rights problems reported included citizens’ lack of the ability and legal means to choose their government; restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and the freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and pervasive gender discrimination and lack of equal rights that affected most aspects of women’s lives,” the report stated.
Anti-Trump protests in Europe
Meanwhile, Women’s March Rome has announced protests against Trump on Tuesday, a day before he visits Tome and Vatican City.
A “Trump not welcome” protest is also expected to draw thousands of people in Brussels on Wednesday, as Trump enters the city to meet NATO officials.
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