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SAUDI ARABIAN COSMETICS?

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By William Fisher

As human rights organizations expressed skepticism that detainees recently transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabian custody could receive fair trials and escape torture - and a new study charged that the country's textbooks continue to promote intolerance of other religions - the oil-rich Kingdom put the finishing touches on its new Human Rights Commission.

The new commission - which the government characterizes as an independent rights watchdog -- came into existence last October, but the King has just gotten around to naming its board members so it can begin its work. The body's chairman, Turki Ibn Khaled Al-Sudairi, who previously worked as a state minister and Cabinet member, said there will be no women on the commission's board.

In a related development, Human Rights Watch said that the 15 Saudi detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi custody on May 18 "are unlikely to receive a fair trial and are at risk of torture."

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"After being deprived of access to justice for years in U.S. military detention, they may face continued incarceration with no legal process in Saudi Arabia," the organization charged.

The 16 will be jailed upon their return to Saudi Arabia. Some may eventually go on trial if there is evidence against them, or they could be released after a judicial review.

An estimated 100 Saudis are still being held at Guantanamo, some of them for more than four years.

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Saudi Arabia recently freed three former Guantanamo Bay detainees after they completed their jail sentences, according to the state news agency, SPA.

The three had been handed over by the US last year. At least five other Guantanamo detainees were freed by Saudi Arabia last year after completing jail sentences.

Meanwhile, the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, a nonprofit group in Washington that seeks to encourage democracy, released a new study claiming that intolerance continues to pervade religious education in Saudi public schools.

"It is not hate speech here and there, it is an ideology that runs throughout," according to Nina Shea, the center's director and principal author of the report.

Among examples cited in the study: A first-grade student is taught that "Every religion other than Islam is false"; teachers are instructed to "Give examples of false religions, like Judaism, Christianity, paganism, etc."; fifth graders learn "It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and his prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."

The study is based on translations of 12 history and religion textbooks obtained from parents of Saudi schoolchildren. The textbooks were used last year in Saudi schools and Saudi-run schools in Washington, London, Paris, and several other cities, the report said.

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The results, it concludes, reveal systematic "hatred toward 'unbelievers,' " mainly Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists, but also Shiites and other Muslims who do not believe in the country's orthodox interpretation of Islam.

Saudi authorities say they have been working on revisions to their textbooks for some years. The country's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, said in a statement, "There are hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the new requirements, and the process remains ongoing."

The new Saudi human rights body is one of many similar groups organized by Middle East governments in the past few years. Egypt, Jordan and Morocco are among the countries that operate such groups. In Libya, an 'informal' human rights group has been organized by the son of the country's ruler, Mu'ammar Gadhafi.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 
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