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19 Sep 2022

Middle East Eye

Saudi Arabia: Al-Howeitat land rights defenders jailed for 50 years after protesting displacement for Neom mega-project; incl. co. comment

"Neom: Saudi Arabia jails tribesmen for 50 years for rejecting displacement" 13 September 2022

Two members of the Howeitat, a tribe in Saudi Arabia forcibly displaced to make way for the $500bn Neom megacity, have received lengthy sentences over their protests against the project, a UK-based rights group has reported.

Abdulilah al-Howeiti and his relative, Abdullah Dukhail al-Howeiti, were both handed a 50-year prison term and 50-year travel ban for supporting their family's refusal to be forcibly evicted from their homes in the Tabuk province of northwestern Saudi Arabia, according to Alqst...

'The lengthy prison sentence handed against members of the Howeitat tribe follow a dangerous pattern we are seeing unfold in Saudi Arabia'
- Ramzi Kaiss, MENA Rights Group

Since December, Howeitat tribespeople have reported the Saudi authorities' campaign to drive them from their land has escalated. New measures include cutting water and electricity supplies, and deploying surveillance drones above residences...

The newly sentenced tribesmen are among 150 Howeitat who have been imprisoned over their resistance to the Neom project, according to...a member of the tribe.

Saudi forces alleged he opened fire and they were forced to retaliate, which tribe members have vigorously denied.

The government's new drive to surveil and evict the tribe began when a group of men were arrested in December for planning a peaceful protest, Ayla al-Howeiti said...

Tribe members told her that drones are being flown regularly over Tabuk province, and that they believe their mobile phone and social media accounts are closely monitored.

The tribe and human rights groups have previously raised their concerns with the companies working on Neom, including an open letter to three consultancies...calling on them to cease their engagement "unless and until" adverse human rights impacts were addressed.

MEE asked the same consultancies - Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and Oliver Wyman - for comment on the continued allegations of human rights violations facing the Howeitat. 

A Boston Consulting Group spokesperson said: “We do not comment about specific clients and projects to protect client confidentiality.” The other two companies did not respond...

Saudi Arabia's government and Neom also did not respond to requests for comment.