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Human Rights First to Present Saudi Organization ALQST with Prestigious William D. Zabel Human Rights Award

The annual award will honor ALQST for their work exposing human rights abuses by the Saudi regime

NEW YORK — Human Rights First today announced that it will present Saudi human rights organization ALQST with its annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award, in recognition of its unwavering commitment to human rights in Saudi Arabia and around the world. Presented annually for more than three decades, the award acknowledges and celebrates the work of courageous activists on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and human rights. ALQST for Human Rights monitors and documents abuses perpetrated by the Saudi government, including repression of women and violations of Saudis’ human rights.

“Human Rights First has tremendous respect and admiration for the work of ALQST for Human Rights and its founder, Yahya Assiri,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “Their work documenting human rights violations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the face of escalating pressure on human rights defenders couldn’t be more important, especially in an environment where information on these abuses is difficult to come by. In the present climate, where Saudi leaders can kill their critics with impunity, the work of Yahya Assiri and ALQST is critical.”

ALQST is one of the most active and trusted organizations that consistently monitors and documents human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, where escalating repression in recent years has decimated civil society and criminalized human rights activists. Through its extensive network of local sources, ALQST has unparalleled access to developments on the ground. Its analysis and reports are relied upon by international NGOs, media outlets and others amplifying the voices of Saudi human rights defenders and their messages among the international community. In the run-up to this year’s G20 summit in November, due to be hosted by Saudi Arabia, ALQST has been at the forefront of calls for governments and businesses not to turn a blind eye to the Saudi authorities’ egregious rights violations.

“By shining a light on ALQST in this way, Human Rights First is shining a light on the besieged human rights movement in Saudi Arabia,” said ALQST founder Yahya Assiri. “This award sends a message that all the heroes who have courageously defended human rights in the country, for which they have often paid the highest price, have not been forgotten. We take this occasion to reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The award is presented each year to human rights leaders and organizations that have distinguished themselves for their work advancing rights, justice and equality for those suffering persecution and violations of their rights. Recent Zabel Award recipients include: Miroslava Cerpas Hernández, who promotes the rights of migrants and refugees displaced by violence in Honduras; Friar Tomás González, who protects vulnerable migrants on the Mexican border; Yazidi human rights activists Khaleel Aldakhi and Ameena Saeed Hasan; European antisemitism activists Jane Braden-Golay, Siavosh Derakhti, and Niddal El-Jabri; Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who later went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; and human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng of China.

The award is typically presented to recipients at an in-person award dinner and ceremony in New York. However, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights First will instead host a virtual event on October 21 to honor ALQST. The event will showcase ALQST’s work and feature an interview between Mr. Assiri and CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

“Now is a crucial time for the international community to increase pressure on the Saudi authorities and place human rights at the centre of all discussions,” said Julia Legner, ALQST’s Head of Advocacy. “This means demanding the release of prisoners of conscience, meaningful steps towards accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and an end to the war in Yemen.”

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