RIYADH (Dispatches) – Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have issued a joint statement calling on Google to abandon plans to build a Saudi Arabian “cloud region” – a massive cloud computing project conceived in cooperation with Riyadh.
The human rights watchdogs say that the Saudi government might abuse the project’s capabilities to spy on dissidents and more.
“There are numerous potential human rights risks of establishing a Google Cloud region in Saudi Arabia that include violations of the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and association, non-discrimination, and due process,” the joint statement said.
The authors of the statement further argue that Riyadh has already used large internet platforms to spy on defenders of human rights and referred as proof to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi security forces in the country’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called out the “heinous crime” and took partial responsibility for it, but rejected claims he ordered the killing.
“The Saudi government has demonstrated time and again a flagrant disregard for human rights, both through its own direct actions against human rights defenders and its spying on corporate digital platforms to do the same,” the campaigners noted.
Last year, the company announced the plans to establish a “cloud region” in Saudi Arabia in partnership with the kingdom’s state oil company Aramco.
The kingdom has revised its so-called “anti-terrorism” law to include dissent. Ever since, it has been coming down hard on almost any instance of protest throughout the country, even within the royal family itself.
According to the groups, the kingdom tows an “extensive record of seeking to spy on its own citizens.”
Back in 2019, U.S. prosecutors announced that two former Twitter employees had used their access at the social media platform to gather private information about Saudi dissidents -- most likely at Riyadh’s behest, they reminded.
The Saudi Arabian academic and opposition figure Saeed Bin Nasser Al-Ghamdi has revealed that the authorities in Riyadh have recently arrested another thirteen activists because of their “human rights activities and communication with activists abroad.” He did not reveal the names of those detained.
“The state is trying to spread a rumor about foreign intelligence that led to setting them up [the 13 detainees], which are usual claims of unjust regimes, and that actually do us the good of confirming that repression is the cornerstone of the rule,” he tweeted.
Al-Ghamdi pointed out that “the number of those communicating with their brothers abroad is more than the state can imagine, and is wider than it could realize.”
Last September, Saudi opposition figures in exile announced the establishment of an opposition political party called the National Assembly Party, amid an increasing crackdown on dissent in the kingdom.
Dozens of activists and politicians have been forced into exile. However, the authorities in Riyadh pursue them and their families, even abroad.