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Saudi-funded NGO under scrutiny in Austria

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Saudi-funded NGO under scrutiny in Austria
The KAICIID headquarters in Vienna. Photo: APA/Neubauer
15:01 CET+01:00
The Austrian government has said it will be observing the activities of a Saudi-funded centre in Vienna, which is supposed to foster inter-religious dialogue, before extending its contract next year.

Chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) said the issue was to find if the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) was really meeting its objectives of promoting inter-religious dialogue.

KAICIID is an NGO which is exempt from paying taxes in Austria. Its goals are also to promote human rights, justice and peace.

Recently its deputy director, former justice minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner, came under fire for comments she made in an interview with Profil magazine, in which she dismissed criticism of Saudi Arabia’s judicial executions as “nonsense”.

When asked about the executions, she said “That’s not every Friday, that’s nonsense. But whatever, I’m against it anyway.”

She also compared the abaya - the garment that Saudi women are forced to wear - to a judge's gown.

Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP) said that he disapproved of Bandion-Ortner’s statements but added that he also found some of the criticism directed against her had been “too negative”. Neither he nor Faymann would comment on whether they thought Bandion-Ortner should keep her job as deputy director of the centre.

The Freedom Party, which polls show will challenge the ruling coalition in the next election, wants the government to end the treaty with Saudi Arabia that grants the centre its tax-exempt status.

Austria’s Green Party wants a parliamentary enquiry while Vienna’s Lesbian and Gay Alliance called Bandion-Ortner’s interview a “moral low point.”

According to Amnesty International in 2013 at least 79 death sentences were carried out in Saudi Arabia, nearly half on foreigners.  

The KAICIID headquarters in Vienna opened in November 2012, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the world’s major religions. The ceremony was overshadowed by a protest by the Green Party and various Austrian NGOs concerned about Saudi Arabia’s poor human-rights record.

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