Publication date: 25/04/2020

ALQST has been monitoring the repeated violations being committed by the Saudi authorities in their bid to evict members of the Huwaitat tribe from their homes in order to proceed with their Neom megacity project on the Red Sea, in the northwest corner of the kingdom.

Not only did they kill Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, who had vowed to defy the government’s eviction order, but now, ALQST has learned, they are hoping to pull off a major publicity stunt by getting prominent figures among the Huwaitat to publicly disown Abdul Rahim and “renew their allegiance” to the king.

ALQST has also learned that the authorities rounded up and arrested several other members of the tribe who opposed the eviction, which the authorities claim is not compulsory and will not result in anyone being forcibly turned out of their home. These claims are contradicted, however, by the authorities’ actions on the ground: there are videos and photos on social media clearly showing the authorities’ use of excessive force against the residents of al-Khuraiba village, together with arrests and then the killing of Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti.

Sources say that on the day Abdul Rahim’s body was handed over to his family, the Tabuk emirate (regional authority) invited a number of the Huwaitat to a meeting to discuss the matter. Some of them rejected the invitation and chose instead to attend to the funeral and burial of Abdul Rahim. Those who did attend the meeting, however, were promised SR100,000 (US$27,000) each, and SR300,000 (US$80,000) for each of those appointed as a tribal sheikh. In exchange, they are to take part in a propaganda exercise involving a public celebration at which they formally disown Abdul Rahim and members of the tribe resisting eviction, and announce what the authorities are calling “renewal of their allegiance”.

ALQST views this charade, in which the authorities aim to coerce, bribe or otherwise coerce certain tribal figures to take part, as nothing but an attempt to cover up their killing of Abdul Rahim and the arrests of the following men:

  1. Rashid bin Ibrahim bin Maqboul al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  2. Abdulilah bin Rashid bin Ibrahim al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  3. Abdullah bin Ibrahim bin Maqboul al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  4. Atallah bin Afnan Saleh al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  5. Sultan bin Ibrahim Hussain al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  6. Aoun bin Abdullah Ahmad al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  7. Khaled bin Abdullah Ahmad al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti
  8. Saleh bin Selim Ali al-Riqabi al-Huwaiti

Sources say some of these men were arrested for coming to the defence of a kidnapped child, Salem bin Rashid al-Taqiqi. The child was driven away in a civilian car, but when family members pursued the kidnappers to try to free the child, it transpired that the kidnappers were from the Mabaheth secret police. They said the child had been kidnapped in order to detain him after he wrote on the walls the slogan “We Will Not Be Moved”.

ALQST notes that it has not been able to verify with total certainty this information from people on the ground. Nevertheless, in view of the sensitivity of the situation, and because the authorities may be planning to stage their propaganda event very soon, we have decided to publish it in order to stop this charade, based as it is on coercion and bribery, from succeeding in covering up the crimes and abuses of the Saudi authorities.

Timeline:

  • In April 2017, still months before the Neom megacity project was announced, land transfers in the area were suspended along with licence renewals and all property-related transactions and municipal services, after the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired title to the whole area.
  • The authorities took the approach of introducing the idea in principle of evicting the inhabitants by spreading anonymous rumours in the hope that people would gradually absorb it and accept it.
  • A group of local people went to the Tabuk emirate (regional authority) to ask about these rumours that they were to be evicted, and request that land transfers be resumed. The emirate told them that the rumours were unfounded, and that the suspension of land transfers was a precautionary measure in the best interests of the public.
  • In May 2017 local inhabitants launched the hashtag “Victims of the PIF”.
  • Many people submitted petitions to the Royal Diwan concerning the stoppage of land transfers, but without receiving any response.
  • The Neom project was first publicly announced on 24 October 2017.
  • In January 2018 work began on the construction of a number of royal palaces, employing about 40,000 labourers employed by three companies: Nesma, Al Bawani and a Turkish contractor.
  • In February 2018 committees from the Justice Ministry started issuing emergency acquisition orders on all land owned by private citizens falling within the boundaries of Neom, according to statements by Sharia court officials.
  • All of these measures were carried out in the utmost secrecy.
  • During 2019 King Salman visited these palaces in Neom and spent a month relaxing there. Tourists also started coming to visit places like Jabal al-Lawz, Ain Musa and Tayyib al-Ism, north of the village of Maqna.
  • On 1 January 2020 Tabuk emirate gathered the inhabitants of the villages of al-Khuraiba, Sharma and Gayal to inform them, in the presence of ministers, of the decision to evict them. People expressed their rejection of the decision, and the tribesmen offered some alternative solutions to avoid compulsory eviction, such as building an alternative project nearby to compensate for their displacement.
  • On 7 January members of the public held a conference at which they declared their rejection of the eviction order in the presence of all the inhabitants of the area.
  • Within two weeks of the eviction order being announced, committees from the Social Development department had arrived in the area and put up signs in the streets asking residents to report to the committees to identify their holdings on the land registry and relinquish them.
  • Local people gathered at the Sharma emirate headquarters to meet the Social Development committees’ representatives and once again expressed their opposition.
  • In March 2020 the authorities began pressuring people and sending in Special Forces, sometimes with more than 40 vehicles at a time, to raid the homes of those resisting eviction. The aim was to intimidate people and coerce them to report to the committees and agree to being unfairly evicted from their homes. Meanwhile the following individuals were arrested:

1-  Rashid bin Ibrahim bin Maqboul al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

2 – Abdulilah bin Rashid bin Ibrahim al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

3 – Abdullah bin Ibrahim bin Maqboul al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

4 – Atallah bin Afnan Saleh al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

5 – Sultan bin Ibrahim Hussain al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

6 – Aoun bin Abdullah Ahmad al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

7 – Khaled bin Abdullah Ahmad al-Taqiqi al-Huwaiti

8 – Saleh bin Selim Ali al-Riqabi al-Huwaiti.

  • Most people declined to visit the committees and give details of their landholdings and houses, so the committees started visiting people in their homes, escorted by security forces, to list and measure properties by force.
  • On 13 April 2020 Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti refused to allow a land registry committee into his home, and filmed the videos of them that have been circulating.  At 5:40am Special Forces attacked his house with heavy weapons, killing him.
  • For a week the authorities held on to his body, insisting that he should be buried in Tabuk, but when his family refused, and as pressure mounted in the media, they agreed to hand the body over to his family for burial in al-Khuraiba amid heavy security measures.
  • At the same time, while Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti’s funeral was taking place, the Tabuk emirate called a meeting with some of the government-appointed tribal sheikhs and other notables of the Huwaitat, and urged them to hold an event at which they would publicly condemn Abdul Rahim’s actions.
  • During the meeting at the emirate offices, those who attended were given SR100,000 (US$27,000) each, and each sheikh was given SR300,000 (US$80,000), to buy their agreement.
  • There is now a propaganda effort going on to counter recent information about the views of the Huwaitat tribe.
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