In a Monday morning appearance on CNBC, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross touted that, during President Trump’s visit Saudi Arabia, “there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there.”
Pressed by the anchor, Becky Quick, that the lack of protests could be attributable to Saudi Arabia being a police state where protesting is banned, Ross brushed it off.
“The mood was a genuinely good mood,” Ross said. As proof he offered that Saudi state security personnel gave him “two gigantic bushels of dates,” which Ross said was “a from-the-heart, genuine gesture.”
A recent study by Human Rights Watch found that Saudi Arabia “continued arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents.” According to the report, in 2015, “over a dozen prominent activists convicted on charges arising from their peaceful activities were serving prison sentences.”
One dissident, Waleed Abu al-Khair, is serving “a 15-year sentence imposed by Saudi Arabia’s terrorism court that convicted him in 2014 on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism in media interviews and on social media of human rights abuses.”
Another writer, Zuhair Kutbi, was jailed after “he discussed peaceful reform proposals in a TV interview.”
Other protesters have been sentenced to death:
Saudi courts have sentenced two men to death and five others to long prison terms after trials that made a mockery of due process. Authorities charged all seven following protests by members of the Shia minority in 2011 and 2012 in Eastern Province towns that resulted in hundreds of arrests.
Ross’ comments were eerily reminiscent of comments by the Saudi ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al Mouallimi, who insisted that if you ask the Saudi people, they would overwhelmingly support their government.
Reminded by anchor Al Jazeera host Mehdi Hasan that advocating for a change in government is illegal, Al-Mouallimi just repeated his point.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) March 25, 2016
Trump himself has attacked the activities of protesters in the United States, calling their activities after the election “unfair.” In a court filing, Trump’s lawyers argued that protesters have “no right” to express dissent at his campaign rallies.