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Neom: Saudi Arabia sentences tribesmen to death for resisting displacement

Shadli, Atallah, and Ibrahim al-Howeiti were arrested in 2020 for opposing their eviction for the development of the $500bn megaproject to be the host site of the 2029 Asian Winter Games
Artist view of the 'Mirror Line', a 120-kilometre horizontal skyscraper, announced as a landmark in Neom, north of Saudi Arabia (Reuters)

Saudi court sentenced three members of the Howeitat, a tribe forcibly ejected to make way for the $500 bn Neom megacity, to death earlier this month for resisting displacement, a UK-based rights group has reported.

Shadli, Atallah, and Ibrahim al-Howeiti were arrested in 2020 for opposing the eviction of their tribe for the project and were handed down death sentences on 2 October by Saudi Arabia's Specialised Criminal Court, according to UK-based rights group Alqst. 

"We condemn the sentences and call for their release," Alqst said in a tweet.

Shadli al-Huweiti is the brother of Abdul Rahim al-Howeiti, a 43-year-old Tabuk resident who was shot dead by Saudi special forces in April 2020 after protesting the government's eviction orders, including in videos he regularly posted to YouTube.

The men's death sentences are only the latest in a series of extreme rulings recently handed down by Saudi courts to those who have expressed dissent.

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It also comes as Howeitat tribespeople have reported an escalation in the campaign by authorities to drive them from their land for the flagship project - and now the site of the 2029 Asian Winter Games, announced this week.

Neom: Yet-to-be-built Saudi resort chosen to host 2029 Asian Winter Games
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Two other Howeitat members - Abdulilah al-Howeiti and Abdullah Dukhail al-Howeiti - were given 50-year prison terms and 50-year travel bans in August for supporting their family's refusal to be evicted from their homes in the kingdom's Tabuk province.

Others who have received lengthy sentences include Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University student and mother of two, and Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani, a mother of five. They were given 34 years and 45 years respectively over tweets critical of the Saudi government.

Osama Khaled, a writer, translator, and computer programmer, was sentenced to 32 years over "allegations relating to the right of free speech", Alqst has said.

Adel al-Saeed, vice president of the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights said in a series of tweets that the new death sentences reveal how the penalty is being used "in an unprecedented way to include all forms of objection to government decisions".

The use of the death penalty as a political tool to subjugate citizens shows the kingdom does not plan to reverse its use of punitive death sentences, he added.

"It also shows that [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman sees the international situation and the need for energy as an appropriate environment to pass his unjust sentences at the lowest possible cost," he wrote.

Middle East Eye has asked the Saudi government for comment.

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