Jun 12, 2019 –
VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s government said on Wednesday it plans to shut a Saudi-funded centre for religious dialogue in Vienna after parliament urged it to try to prevent the possible execution of a teenager in Saudi Arabia over acts committed when he was a minor.
The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), which was opened in 2012, has long been a lightning rod in Austria for criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Austria’s parliament backed a motion calling on Vienna to quit the treaty on which KAICIID is based and to revoke an agreement that bases it in the Austrian capital.
The motion also called on Austria’s provisional government and the Foreign Ministry to “use all political and diplomatic means available” to prevent the execution of Murtaja Qureiris, an 18-year-old who rights groups say is on trial, accused of offences related to taking part in anti-government protests.
KAICIID and the Saudi embassy in Vienna were not immediately available for comment.
“This is a signal for human rights in Saudi Arabia, which hopefully will be copied by many, not just in Europe,” lawmaker Peter Pilz, author of the motion, said on Twitter.
The Foreign Ministry said it planned to act on the motion.
“There is a clear decision of parliament which must be implemented,” it said in a statement, adding that “all legally necessary steps” would be examined.
The motion, which was backed by the Social Democrats, the far-right Freedom Party and the liberal Neos, also called on Austria to work to secure the release of Qureiris, who rights groups say has been held since he was 13.
“A fundamental human right, namely taking part in a demonstration, is enough for the Saudi Arabian government to execute a juvenile,” Pilz said in a separate statement.
Pilz, an environmentalist who split from the Greens, has long been a critic of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh paid for the baroque palace that houses the centre, located near the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC). It has footed KAICIID’s budget, though it is a shared project, based on a treaty signed by Austria, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
The Vatican is a founding observer of KAICIID and has representation on its board, which by treaty must include three Christians, three Muslims, a Jew, a Hindu and a Buddhist.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)