As a diplomatic crisis drags on in the Persian Gulf region, a Doha-appointed human rights commission says Saudi Arabia has been “politicizing” the annual hajj pilgrimage through imposing restrictions on Qatari pilgrims travelling to the kingdom.
The National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) said in a statement on Saturday that under the Saudi restrictive measures, the Qataris were required to enter the kingdom only through two Qatari airports and via the capital, Doha.
The NHRC said it was “extremely concerned over [Riyadh] politicizing religious rituals and using [Hajj] to achieve political gains,” adding that “any Qatari citizen located outside Qatar must first return to Qatar then travel to Saudi Arabia” due to the new measures.
The committee also noted that it had filed a complaint with the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over the Saudi restrictions, which were in “stark violation of international laws and agreements that guarantee the right to worship.”
A second complaint would be lodged with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) against the Riyadh regime for subjecting the Qatari nationals to harassment and threats, the NHRC said.
The complaints are meant to draw international attention to Saudi Arabia’s violations of religious freedom and the right to worship, it pointed out.
Saudi Arabia organizes the Hajj pilgrimage as the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina.
However, serious questions were raised about the competence of Saudi authorities to manage the Hajj rituals following two deadly incidents in September 2015.
More than 100 pilgrims lost their lives after the collapse of a massive construction crane into Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
About 4,700 people also died in a human crush, according to the figures provided by Iran.
The fresh Saudi restrictions on Qatari pilgrims are seen as part of attempts by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to isolate Doha.
Last month, the Saudi-led quartet imposed a trade and diplomatic embargo on Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism.
They presented Qatar with a list of 13 wide-ranging demands and gave it an ultimatum to comply with them or face unspecified consequences.
The demands included shutting down the broadcaster Al Jazeera, removing Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, scaling back cooperation with Iran and ending ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Doha, however, denounced the demands as unreasonable, refused to meet them, and said that they were meant to force the country to surrender its sovereignty.
Saudi-led bloc to meet in Manama
The foreign ministers from the Saudi-led bloc are set to hold a meeting in the Bahraini capital, Manama, on Sunday to discuss the latest developments on the Qatar crisis.
They are expected to pressure Qatar into complying with their demands during the two-day meeting.
On Saturday, Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, Qatar’s ambassador to Russia, told a radio station in Moscow that his country supported the people’s aspirations in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The Saudi-led quartet, however, chose to go against that current and punished those who opposed their governments and branded them terrorists.
“This in itself is terrorism,” he said. “The siege countries are trying to reproduce the regimes that produced terrorism, and they want to convince us that these regimes will fight terrorism.”
Meanwhile, Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the US, said told PBS public broadcaster that the disagreement between the Persian Gulf Arab countries “is about what the future of the Middle East should look like.”