Yahya Assiri was once a wealthy air force officer in Saudi Arabia, he now lives as a political refugee in the United Kingdom. He runs ALQST, his own human rights group through an underground network of activists back at home.
He spent years living a double life in Saudi Arabia. By day he would work on international arms deals for the Saudi military, but by night he would be in online forums discussing problems of poverty, unemployment and repression.
Yahya was born in 1980 in Asir province, a region in south-west Saudi Arabia where indigenous tribes fiercely resisted the 20th century unification of Saudi Arabia under the Wahhabi-allied al-Saud family.
As well as heading ALQST, he currently works as a volunteer in the Middle East and North Africa division of Amnesty International, while studying for his Masters in Human Rights and Political Communications at Kingston University, London.
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about human rights in Saudi Arabia and his tireless work in support of that cause.
Clarion Project: Walk us through a day in the life of ALQST (as far as you are able)?
Yahya Assiri: The days begin early. It begins with checking emails, reply to them and dealing with any urgent issues. We check the status of situations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and follow up on it with our on-the-ground volunteers. We publish reports as and when needed.
This often involves using one of our translators to translate it from Arabic to English and then it is sent off to our researchers to verify and correct. We do a lot of interviews with the media and this is great because the situation in KSA is simply deteriorating.
So the more publicity we have, the better. We plan our next move, for example which campaigns we will focus on. Every day is different; you never know what will happen.
Clarion: What do you hope to achieve through Al-Qst?
Assiri: Our aim at ALQST is to make a significant impact on the deteriorating human rights situation in KSA, which ultimately has a ripple effect on the rest of the Middle East.
Our aim is to curb government violations of human rights, which it perpetrates against its own citizens, and to spread the values of human rights in society.
We seek to advocate for human worth and dignity, to stand up for all basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, by using all legitimate and non-violent means. ALQST stands up for victims of injustice regardless of their race, gender, opinions or any other considerations.
Clarion: Can you tell us about the name you chose? What does it mean? Why did you choose it?
Assiri: AL-QST in arabic translate to 'justice' in english and it is written in the Quran several times.
This is to show the Saudi people that human rights do not contradict Islamic teachings, as the government erroneously likes to claim.
Clarion: What in your eyes is the biggest obstacle to human rights in Saudi Arabia?
Assiri: Lots of things, but the main one has to be the regime. It is an absolute monarchy which does not allow its citizens to participate in the way their own country is run.
They use Islam as an excuse to exploit its own people. This is in contradiction to fundamental Islamic teachings.
Clarion: Do you think that human rights can be achieved while still keeping the monarchy and the regime in place?
Assiri: Only if the regime and the monarchy are willing to make reforms immediately and without conditions, including having a written constitution.
Without these basic changes, it is near enough impossible to envision keeping the monarchy in place.
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